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Greek duo maintain innocence

Michele Kambas in Athens | August 22, 2004 18:49 IST

The two Greek sprinters caught up in an Olympic doping scandal asked an angry nation to believe in their innocence on Sunday.

Costas Kenteris, who was deprived of a chance to defend his 200 metres Olympic title and broke with his coach after missing a pre-Games drug test, accused people close to him of letting them down and said they were not told of the test appointment.

Drug testers from the International Olympic Committee sought the two athletes for anti-doping tests at the Olympic village on August 12, a day before the opening ceremony, but were unable to find them.

In a joint statement to a Greek newspaper with training partner Katerina Thanou, the 100 metres silver medallist four years ago, he said: "We have never used banned substances."

"We are blamed for a procedural lapse concerning a sample, which nobody told us about. Greeks must believe this," they said in written comments which Eleftheroytypia newspaper said had been passed on to it by the athletes' lawyer.

The pair pulled out of the Games before the athletics competition started after spending several days in hospital following what they said was a motorcycle accident near coach Christos Tzekos's house after the missed test on August 12.

"In this difficult period for us we never sought to conceal the truth, but we are bitter with some people who know us very well and all the elements of this case," they said.

Kenteris has given no reason for his announcement that he was breaking with Tzekos, the controversial coach who trained him and Thanou from obscurity to Olympic glory in Sydney.

Greek authorities, stung by the embarrassment the scandal has thrown over the Games, have launched a criminal investigation into the affair, questioning whether drugs were involved and whether the athletes really did have an accident.

The drugs squad raided a warehouse used by Tzekos's dietary supplements business on Friday and, a judicial source said, found nutritional products containing stimulants and steroids that are banned from use in competition sports.

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