Police intensify investigation

Updated: August 17, 2004, 1:46 PM ET
Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece -- Time is everything for sprinters. Even after the strange plummet of Greece's top two speedsters, it's still the clock that matters.

But now it's anti-doping authorities and police trying to piece together events over a few confusing hours that left the Olympic medal hopefuls in hospital beds and their angry nation awaiting clear answers.

Some might come at an International Olympic Committee hearing Wednesday to decide whether reigning 200-meter champion Kostas Kenteris and his training partner, 100-meter silver medalist Katerina Thanou, intentionally evaded drug testers.

Americans are almost certainly aware of how Greek sports fans must feel. After all, the last time a nation was shamed by its own Olympic athletes was 1994, the culprits being two U.S. figure skating rivals known simply in headlines as Tonya and Nancy.

Only time will tell if this one lives on as Kosty and Kate.

Until then, many things about their story still don't add up.

The deputy chief of the Greek Olympic delegation, Manolis Kolimpadis, starts the story:

About 4:15 p.m., Aug. 12 -- the day before the opening ceremony -- he greeted the two sprinters and their coach, Christos Tsekos, as they arrived at the Olympic Village. They apparently heard anti-doping inspectors were seeking them for a spot check, which can hit any athlete once they arrive in the compound.

"They were trembling like doves. ... They were very frightened,'' he recalled.

Kolimpadis said he asked Thanou why she was nervous.

"She said, 'Why are they pursuing us? What do they want from us?' ''

The World Anti-Doping Agency, or WADA, was closing in. Neither sprinter has ever tested positive for banned substances. But they have been elusive targets -- rarely appearing in international meets outside major championships and apparently sending confusing signals about their movements around the world.

Last year, Kenteris, 31, and Thanou, 29, missed an out-of-competition drug test after telling officials they would be training on the Greek island of Crete. Instead, they headed to Qatar during the war in Iraq. Tsekos said they were in the Gulf nation -- wartime site of the U.S. Central Command -- to check out sports facilities.

Then last week, IOC medical commission chairman Arne Ljungqvist said drug testers unsuccessfully tried to find Kenteris and Thanou in Chicago, where the Greek athletics federation said they were training.

Kolimpadis said he pressed the federation for the athletes' precise whereabouts. Early on Aug. 12 came an answer: They were now in Essen, Germany, to see a doctor and wouldn't return to Greece until later this week.

"A few hours later ... we saw them at the Olympic Village,'' Kolimpadis said.

Greek media added a twist: There were reports suggesting the sprinters were never in Chicago but in Corinth, about 60 miles west of Athens. Some residents told Greek television stations that they saw Kenteris and Thanou at restaurants.

At 6:15 p.m., Aug. 12, the Greek Olympic delegation was notified that Kenteris and Thanou had 75 minutes to appear for a drug test, Kolimpadis said.

"We didn't find them in their rooms,'' he continued. ``They were gone, but we don't know when they left.''

Their lawyer, Michalis Dimitrakopoulos, said they left the village about 5 p.m. without being told to stay around for the doping controllers.

But no one could reach the athletes at their homes or on mobile phones, Kolimpadis said.

Tsekos, a former nutritional supplements salesman who splits his time between his native Greece and adopted home in the Chicago suburb of Lincolnwood, also was unreachable. He rarely gives interviews and cultivates an image as an all-business perfectionist -- often wearing a tie and nicely tailored suits to meets and training sessions.

In March, Tsekos refused to directly address questions about doping suspicions in an interview with The Associated Press. He credited his coaching success to methods such as diet control and therapy from chiropractors.

At the time, Tsekos had some powerful allies.

"If there is any proof, please put it now on the table. And in absence of such things, it's damaging to talk badly,'' said Istvan Gyulai, secretary general of the IAAF, world track and field's governing body.

If the case in Athens is ruled a "no-show,'' the IAAF would suspend the pair for a year. The IOC applies a "two no-shows'' policy.

Tsekos began training with Thanou in 1988. In 1996, she was European indoor champion and was second in Sydney four years later. Kenteris joined Tsekos a year before the Sydney Games.

When Kenteris and Thanou failed to appear for the Olympic Village test, the whirlwind started.

The IOC and WADA made no public statements, but they applied huge back-channel pressures on Greek sports authorities. It boiled down to one obvious question: How can Greece's top stars be missing and unreachable on the eve of the games?

The Greek Olympic Committee went into emergency session. The games' organizers quickly reworked plans for the opening ceremony. Kenteris was among the final candidates for torch bearer.

Around midnight came word that Kenteris and Thanou were brought to an emergency room with cuts and bruises after allegedly crashing a motorcycle in the seaside suburb of Glyfada, where Tsekos lives.

At 2 a.m. last Friday, Tsekos told reporters that the sprinters were at his house with their cell phones turned off when they heard about the requests by anti-doping inspectors. Tsekos said he lent them a motorcycle and they raced off to reach the village.

What he didn't explain looms large: Why couldn't authorities reach him at home? Why didn't the runners call before speeding off? Were they wearing helmets? And who brought them to the hospital and why was it one nearly 18 miles from the claimed crash site?

Police initially failed to find anyone who saw or heard a crash on Gounari Street, a mix of apartments and small businesses.

Abraham Orphanopoulos, who owns a kiosk at the site, told reporters: "I was in my kiosk and saw nothing.''

Police and Athens' chief prosecutor opened an investigation. Among the items under review: possible inconsistencies between the left-side scrapes on the motorcycle and the right-side injuries of the sprinters.

At 1:40 p.m. last Friday, the director of the KAT hospital, Christos Artinopoulos, said the athletes were in stable condition but needed several more days of medical care. Some experts wondered why nonlife-threatening injuries would require days in the hospital.

The IOC medical chief Ljungqvist also said his group rejected the sprinters' request to be tested in the hospital.

"I don't know what their strategy was, but we did not fall for it,'' he told the Swedish tabloid Expressen. "It would not make any sense to test them in the hospital. You can fix things there so you don't get a positive result.''

At 2 p.m. Tuesday, Kenteris left the hospital. From a car whisking him away he said: "I am suffering a great injustice and I want to say I never used banned substances.''

Bitter Greeks, meanwhile, have flooded the athletes' Internet pages with backlash. One told Thanou: "You are a laughing stock.'' To Kenteris: "Shame.''


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press

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