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Greece Votes To Suspend Two Sprinters

Lawyer to Fight Decision Against Kenteris, Thanou

By Craig Whitlock
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, August 15, 2004; Page E14

ATHENS, Aug. 14 -- Two medal-winning Greek sprinters were temporarily suspended from the national Olympic team Saturday for missing a mandatory drug test, but the scandal involving two of the country's biggest athletic heroes only seemed to grow as new doubts emerged about their alibi and their lawyer vowed to fight any decision that would prevent them from competing.

Members of the Hellenic Olympic Committee voted 5-1 to remove track stars Kostas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou from the Greek squad. But the decision only holds until the International Olympic Committee can rule on whether the pair should be disciplined for possible drug testing violations stemming from a murky sequence of events Thursday night that left them both injured and in the hospital.

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The IOC has scheduled a hearing for Monday to find out why Kenteris and Thanou could not be located by Olympic officials who were trying to administer a random drug test on the eve of the Opening Ceremonies. It was the third time since July they had missed a drug test, Olympic officials reported.

Kenteris and Thanou also failed to show for a disciplinary hearing shortly after their unexplained absence Thursday night, apparently because they were hurt in a motorcycle accident.

The runners told Greek authorities that an unidentified man picked them up after the crash and drove them 18 miles to a hospital, where they were listed Saturday in stable condition with sprains and other minor injuries. No witnesses to the crash have come forward and no other vehicles were involved. A kiosk owner at the site told Greek reporters that he saw and heard nothing at the time the accident was reported to have occurred.

After a four-hour closed-door hearing within view of the Athens Olympic Stadium, members of the HOC issued a statement saying that it retained "unshakeable confidence in 'clean' Games and always appreciated the contributions of the two champions," but found it necessary to suspend them until the IOC could resolve the case.

The president of the HOC, Lambis Nikolau, cast the lone no vote. He said he thought the committee had been too lenient, adding that he favored kicking the two runners off the team for good.

"I was against this decision," he said as he left the meeting. "My opinion was to put the two of them out immediately."

Kenteris -- whose nickname is "Greece Lightning" -- won the gold medal in the 200-meter dash four years ago in Sydney, becoming the first Greek male runner to capture an Olympic medal since 1896, the last time the Games were held in Athens. He was reportedly the first choice of Greek organizers to light the Olympic flame during Friday's Opening Ceremonies, but was unable to assume the celebrated role after the accident.

Thanou, who won the silver medal in the 100 in Sydney, usually trains with Kenteris. Their coach, Christos Tzekos, also was suspended pending the outcome of the IOC hearing.

Michalis Dimitrakopoulos, a lawyer who represented the two runners and their coach at the hearing, said afterward that none of them had done anything wrong and vowed to contest any efforts that would ban them from the duration of the Games.

"They are perfectly clean and do not have anything to hide," he said. "This is totally unfair, how they have been treated. . . . They are not asking for special treatment. They are not asking for favors."

Dimitrakopoulos said the Olympians had not been served with any written or formal notice that they were scheduled to appear for a drug test. But he did not explain their whereabouts that night or shed any light on the circumstances of the motorcycle crash. He said both Kenteris and Thanou could compete "if they feel better" and if the IOC allows it, but declined to answer questions about their medical conditions.

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