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Greece sprinters get 72 hours to explain

Karolos Grohmann | August 13, 2004 21:17 IST

The International Olympic Committee spared Greece major embarrassment on the opening day of the Athens Games on Friday by granting its two top sprinters more time to explain why they missed a dope test.

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A 72-hour extension for Costas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou, after they failed to show up for a Friday disciplinary commission drugs tribunal, was perhaps only a postponement of what could still turn into a national scandal.

The sprinters are in hospital after being injured in a mystery overnight motorcycle accident. Both were said to be stable and not seriously hurt but have been ordered to stay in medical care for at least two more days.

An IOC statement said: "In order to ensure a fair process and give due consideration to the athletes the disciplinary commission has decided to postpone the hearing until Monday, August 16."

After waiting in vain for the pair to leave hospital for the hearing, IOC drugs-panel member Sergei Bubka, a former Olympic pole vault champion, said: "It was a doctor's decision. It wasn't really our decision."

"It was there on a medical certificate. It said these athletes should not be transferred anywhere for 48 hours," he added, deepening the murk of a case that may leave doubt hanging over the pair like the Sword of Damocles.


The sudden cloud of suspicion over two national heroes delivered a severe shock to a country savouring one of its proudest moments. Kenteris won gold in the 200 metres in the Sydney Games and Thanou took silver in the 100.

Dick Pound, chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency, lowered the anxiety level, saying the three-day delay was no big deal "because the athletics doesn't start until the second week anyway (and) this gives them more time to get all the information they need".

But International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) general secretary Istvan Gyulai told Reuters earlier that Kenteris, nicknamed "Greece Lightning" for his gold-medal Sydney dash, and Thanou both missed a drugs test in Chicago several days ago after leaving for Athens a day earlier than planned.

IOC president Jacques Rogge said the fact that the two were Greek national heroes would have no bearing on their fate.

Kenteris and Thanou were ordered on Friday morning to appear before a three-member IOC disciplinary commission which could rule that a missed test is a failed test, which carries a two-year ban.


A statement on their injuries in the crash, in which no other vehicle was involved, said Kenteris "sustained a slight head injury, a sprain to the vertebra at the back of his neck, a knee sprain and scratches to his right leg". Thanou suffered "slight abdominal injuries, a sprain to the right leg".

In the aftermath, Greek Olympic team spokesman George Gakis said the pair were not out of the team and sprint coach Christos Tzekos said the two could be fit in time to compete.

"They don't have a serious problem. We'll see over the next few days how their health develops," said Tzekos. The women's 100 metres final is on August 21, the men's 200 on August 26.

But all Athens was staggered by the news. Call-in show reaction swung from sympathy to stoicism to paranoia. The daily Ethnos urged the sprinters "Tell Us the Truth -- You owe it to all Greeks to prove you are clean".

One man, lamenting all the wrecked pride in Athens' glorious last-minute rescue of a Games that had often been declared on the verge of forfeit, said there was "a curse upon us".

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