-- Two athletes considered national icons in Greece face expulsion from the Summer Games for drug-testing violations, but their cases will not be heard until Monday because both suffered injuries in a motorcycle accident hours after learning of the charges against them, according to Olympic officials.
The wild series of developments surrounding sprinters Kostas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou stunned locals and left politicians tongue-tied hours before the Opening Ceremonies, clouding what was supposed to have been a jubilant showcase of Greek pride and achievement.
Kenteris, the reigning Olympic 200-meter champion, and Thanou, the Olympic silver medalist in the 100, were in stable condition at a local hospital Friday with a variety of minor injuries. Kenteris, who was sporting a neck brace Friday, lost control of the vehicle as they returned to the Olympic Village after visiting their coach in a suburb of Athens, according to Olympic and medical officials.
Thanou was suffering from dizzy spells and both athletes were cut and bruised, according to Athens organizers. Hospital officials said they would not be released before Sunday.
The accident occurred hours before they were scheduled to appear before an Olympic disciplinary panel to explain their absence from mandatory drug tests. Olympic officials say the pair have had three unexplained absences from drug tests since July and face not only a possible ban from the Games but also a two-year competition ban.
Kenteris is considering withdrawing from the Games, the Associated Press reported. The Hellenic Olympic Committee (HOC) scheduled an emergency meeting for its executive board Saturday to discuss the situation. It is unclear whether the athletes would be able to compete in the track and field competition, which begins Aug. 20, if they escaped punishment.
"The Olympic athletes around the world . . . are made very well aware they need to be available, and the importance of being available," for drug tests, said Arne Ljungqvist, head of the medical commissions for the International Olympic Committee and world track and field federation (IAAF). "Three missed tests from within this time is a bit alarming."
Kenteris, 31, had been considered a candidate to light the Olympic cauldron at the Opening Ceremonies. He produced a stunning victory at the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, taking advantage of a relatively weak field in the 200, the first time a Greek had won an Olympic track event since Spiridon Louis won the marathon at the 1896 Games. In 2001, Kenteris won his first world title but has rarely competed in big events since. Thanou, 29, finished second to Marion Jones in the 100 in Sydney.
The IOC's disciplinary panel agreed to postpone Friday's hearing until Monday, so the athletes could attend. The three-person panel, chaired by Thomas Bach, an IOC member from Germany, announced the decision after a noon meeting with the Chef de Mission of the HOC, John Papadogiannakis, who presented medical certificates from the athletes requesting the delay. The IOC announced it had rescheduled the hearing "to ensure a fair process and give due consideration to the athletes."
The athletes were not in the Olympic Village on Thursday night when drug-testing officials sought them out for random, unannounced drug tests. It was the second time during the Olympic testing period, which began July 30, that the two eluded drug testers; about a week ago, Kenteris and Thanou missed another out-of-competition test in Chicago, according to Ljungqvist. That test was administered by the World Anti-Doping Agency for the IOC.
IOC Olympic drug-testing rules state that two missed tests is grounds for disqualification from the Games. IOC President Jacques Rogge said the pair would receive no special consideration from the organization despite their high profile in the Olympic host country.
"The Games are much stronger than individuals," he said. "We've had very widely publicized doping cases before, and they haven't damaged the quality of the Games. . . . The more we catch, the better it is."
The third test the pair missed was administered by the IAAF in Israel in July, Ljungqvist said.
IAAF rules allow the organization latitude to enact as much as a two-year ban when an athlete misses two or more tests, Ljungqvist said. But he said the matter would be referred to the IAAF only if the IOC found the pair guilty of missing at least one of the tests Monday. Should the IOC determine that the athletes committed no violation, the IAAF would not have any basis on which to take action.
The athletes spent Thursday and Friday in Athens's KAT hospital.
"He does not feel well and has a very bad headache," Stratis Patakos, one of Kenteris's friends, told the Associated Press. "Like all Greeks, I am distraught. Kostas has worked very hard to get here and now he's in the eye of the hurricane. He's not seriously injured, but his participation in the Olympics is under threat."