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Greek sprinters pull out of Games


Costas Kenteris
Kenteris claimed he was never informed that he had to attend a drugs test.
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Two Greek athletes' Olympic hopes are in limbo.
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SPECIAL REPORT
• Olympics 2004: Special report 

ATHENS, Greece -- The Greek sprinters at the center of an Olympic doping controversy have withdrawn from the Athens Games.

Kostas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou, who missed mandatory drugs tests last week, announced their decisions after appearing before an International Olympic Committee (IOC) tribunal.

The IOC declared they would take no further action against the pair but would pass their case on to the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), the world athletics governing body.

"I'm withdrawing from the Olympics," said reigning 200 meters champion Kenteris. "I am terminating my collaboration with my coach Christos Tsekos.

"I declared all the facts of my case which state that I am innocent," Kenteris added. "I was never informed that I had to attend a doping test at the Olympic Village."

Thanou, a silver medallist in the 100 meters in Sydney four years ago, exited the hearing after Kenteris and also pleaded her innocence.

"I apologize to the Greek people for not being able to participate in the Games. It's very difficult to withdraw from the Olympic Games, especially if they take place in one's own home country," she said.

Greek Prime Minister, Costas Karamanlis, welcomed the decision but said it should have come much earlier: "Such an issue which casts a shadow over the country should have been ended much earlier."

Kenteris had been expected to light the Olympic Flame during Friday's Opening Ceremony until news emerged that he and Thanou had missed drugs tests on Thursday evening. It was also reported that they had evaded doping testers at their training base in Chicago three days previously.

They were subsequently involved in a motorcycle accident, spending four days in hospital before emerging on Monday.

Further hearing

IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies said the decision by Kenteris and Thanou to pull out of the Games had made the IOC's sanction of expulsion "a moot point."

Thomas Bach, the IOC vice president who headed the disciplinary commission, said it was "good it was over."

"They are out of the Olympic family," said Bach. "We did everything that was possible from a judicial point of view even if it was morally difficult to limit ourselves to that. I don't think that there would have been a withdrawal without our intensive investigation."

The IAAF had already scheduled a hearing for August 26 at their council meeting into the three occasions since July where the Greek pair had allegedly failed to attend drug tests. They risk being banned for up to two years.

A Greek judicial investigation is also continuing, a Greek government spokesman said.

"Unanswered questions remain and the judicial investigation continues in order to give answers," said spokesman Thodoris Roussopoulos.

"The Olympics are nobody's personal affair, but a world event. An event special to Greece not only as the birthplace of the Olympic idea but also because of the participation of over 400 Greek athletes."

The IOC have also asked the IAAF to take action including possible sanctions against their coach Tzekos, who has already served a two year ban in the late 90s for barring testers from testing his group of athletes, which included Thanou but not Kenteris at the time.

The duo's lawyer Michalis Dimitrakopoulos said that while the procedure could have been drawn out even further, the pair had taken their decision in order to avoid the Olympics being further damaged by the controversy.

"Considering that the media were preoccupied with this subject and that the procedure could drag on for three more days, the two athletes became aware that they should present themselves before the IOC commission and take this painful decision," said Dimitrakopoulos.

"The public can better follow the Olympics now."


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