The Greek sprinters at the center of a drug scandal withdrew from the Summer Games on Wednesday, avoiding the ignominy of being thrown out of the Olympics in their home nation but failing to escape a possible two-year ban for missing several mandatory drug tests.
Kostas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou turned in their Olympic accreditation at the start of a much-delayed hearing in front of the International Olympic Committee's three-person disciplinary commission at a local hotel Wednesday morning. Their coach, Christos Tzekos, also withdrew from the Games.
Hours later, the IOC executive board decided to take no action against the sprinters or their coach but said they would have to face the IOC's disciplinary commission before participating in any future Games. The IOC also referred the matter to the world track and field governing body, which will consider a possible two-year ban for both sprinters after the Aug. 29 conclusion of the Games.
"They cannot be excluded from the Games because they have excluded themselves," said Francois Carrard, a legal adviser for the disciplinary commission. "These two athletes, who were stars and heroes and icons in their country will not be taking part in the ultimate competition of their career, and [they will be] prevented from going to further Games without another procedure."
IAAF medical commission chief Arne Ljungqvist said the IAAF would decide how to proceed during an IAAF commission meeting in Athens on Aug. 26. The sprinters were accused of missing two mandatory drug tests during the Olympic testing period, including one shortly before the Games in Chicago. They also missed a mandatory IAAF drug test in July, according to Ljungqvist.
"We had three missed tests in the space of 18 months," Ljungqvist said. "We have a matter to deal with."
Wednesday's hearing had been originally scheduled for last Friday, a day after the second missed test during the Olympic Games testing period. The athletes, however, were in a motorcycle accident hours before the hearing and did not attend. They missed another scheduled hearing on Monday, as they were hospitalized through Tuesday night.
Kenteris, 31, addressed reporters outside a local hotel after the hearing, proclaimed his innocence and announced that he had cut ties with his coach, Tzekos.
"I am innocent of all charges," said Kenteris, the reigning 200-meter Olympic champion.
Carrard said the disciplinary commission had not concluded its investigation and would consider whether any coaches or accredited officials surrounding the athletes had "been the villains." Ljungqvist, too, said coaches or other officials were subject to possible disciplinary action.
The pair were named in an e-mail authored by Victor Conte, the founder of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO), which is at the center of a federal steroid investigation in the United States. The San Jose Mercury News first reported the connection Tuesday. Conte and three others were indicted in February on steroid distribution charges.
In the 2002 e-mail that is part of the indictment, Conte says that the coach for two Greek athletes -- whose names were redacted -- should be warned that the IOC had been made aware of "the clear," which federal investigators allege refers to an anabolic steroid.
"They seem to be ready to charge athletes on a 'related substances' charge," the e-mail said.
Thanou, who finished second to U.S. sprinter Marion Jones in the 100 at the 2000 Summer Games, said she would not compete in the Olympics but intended to continue her career in the sport.
"With the love of the public, I will continue taking part in track and field competition," Thanou, 27, said.
The pair appeared before the commission with Tzekos and their attorney, Michalis Dimitrakopoulos.