Greek sprinters’ withdrawals lift controversy over Games


ATHENS, Reuters

Greece’s top two sprinters pulled out of the Olympics on Wednesday after inflicting six days of embarrassment on their country over a hide-and-seek contest with anti-doping enforcers.

Greece spent a record US$1 billion on security for the Games, but it had no insurance against what turned into the messiest drugs scandal to hit the Olympic movement since Ben Johnson was stripped of his 100-meters gold medal in 1988 for drugs use.

Costas Kenteris, who took Olympic gold in the 200 meters in Sydney in 2000, and team mate Katerina Thanou, who took silver in the 100 meters that year, withdrew from competition protesting their innocence but apologizing to the Greek people.

The International Olympic Committee said in a statement that it would take no action and would therefore be “no longer the authority responsible for issuing potential sanctions related to the Athens Olympic Games.” Instead, it simply noted the decisions by the two sprinters and their coach to pull out of the Games and said it would refer the case to the world governing body of athletics, the IAAF, “for potential sanctions”. (See related stories on pages 7 & 9) The IOC have asked the IAAF to investigate both athletes, the coach Christos Tzekos, and any actions of Greek officials accredited at the Games over the missed tests.

Kenteris, 31, finally offered an explanation for the missed doping test that triggered the debacle last Thursday, but said nothing about the mystery motorcycle cycle crash that put the two in hospital seclusion beyond the reach of Olympic officials.

“I am adamant, I was never notified to go to the Olympic Village to take the test,” he said. He said he had broken with Tzekos and blamed sports officials for the mess.

“With a sense of responsibility and national interest I am retiring from the Olympic Games,” Kenteris said.

IOC spokesman Francois Carrard told a news conference there had been a “pattern of behavior…of missing information about athletes and athletes’ whereabouts”.

UNBRIDLED INDIVIDUALISM

The sprinters’ withdrawal at this point of their bizarre saga was wholly expected. It cut a Gordian knot for nervous Athens organizers on the very day that the Games returned to their spiritual homeland in Ancient Olympia for the shot put.

Greek history records that “a spirit of noble rivalry untouched by baseness of jealousy,” ruled the Olympics of antiquity.

“There was no place for ulterior designs of acts of unbridled individualism, and bodily prowess was expected to be balanced by nobility of soul and spiritual virtue.” Yet the wreaths of olive that are crowning Athens medal winners in tribute to the ancient birthplace of the Games cannot bring back the ethos of those times nearly 3,000 years ago.

“Justice has been served. It looks like they did something wrong because there is a Greek saying that says ‘a clean sky is not afraid of thunder’,” said Christos Papadopoulos, watching the shot put competition in the Olympian grove.

Panagiotis Dimopoulos, a waiter, said he was “disappointed because they put their athletic ambitions ahead of the ideals of the Olympics and sport in general”.

Kenteris and Thanou are, in fact, only the latest two of a dozen athletes in sprinting alone to have been laid low in the past year by doping allegations, the scourge of modern sport at the highest levels of achievement.

“It will never stop,” Commonwealth Secretary General Don McKinnon warned in Athens last week.

BITTER CHAPTER

For the fifth day in succession, Athens was relying on the sheer thrill of sports excellence to wash away the taste of what Greece surely hopes will be the last bitter chapter of the sprinters’ tragedy.

Fittingly, perhaps, the first gold medals of the day were earned in a $36 million dollar “washing machine” course that powers the white water run where Elena Kaliska won the canoeing slalom women’s kayak single and Tony Estanguet of France took the men’s slalom single gold.

South Korea’s all conquering women archers also kept the Games on the straight and narrow, zeroing in on a sixth straight Olympic gold medal in the individual women’s competition.

Asian archers fill six of the last eight places — three South Koreans, two Chinese Taipei and a Chinese — along with Evangelia Psarra of Greece and Briton Alison Williamson — to be decided later on Wednesday at the 19th-century Panathinaiko Stadium, birthplace of the modern Games 108 years ago.

With 21 gold medals in competition, the swimming pool once again was expected to be the evening’s main magnet of attention ahead of the men’s 100-meters freestyle.

On Tuesday, U.S. teenager Michael Phelps powered his way to his second and third gold medals, setting a Games record in the 200 meters butterfly and helping his team to beat Australia in the 4×200 freestyle relay.

The 19-year-old now seems certain to become the first swimmer to win eight medals at a single Olympics, but not the eight golds he rashly forecast in advance.

China lead the medals table, ahead of Australia, the United States and Japan. The host nation has won two gold medals, in judo and synchronized diving.