Officials confiscate 641 boxes from warehouse

Updated: August 21, 2004, 1:39 PM ET
Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece -- Greek officials found 641 boxes containing food supplements with the stimulant ephedrine in a warehouse used by Christos Tsekos, the coach at the center of a doping scandal involving star sprinters Kostas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou, a judicial source said Saturday.

A prosecutor and two inspectors with the National Organization of Medicines, the Greek version of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, searched Tsekos' offices and warehouse Friday and took possession of the supplements.

The search was part of a probe into whether 2000 Olympic medalists Kenteris and Thanou tried to avoid a doping test on the eve of the Athens Games by staging a motorcycle accident. A Greek judicial source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the food supplements -- which are unlicensed in Greece -- were ordered taken from Tsekos last year but the coach got them back somehow. The source also said a supplement sample was sent off for testing.

Officials first became aware of the Tsekos' connection to supplements last year when a consumer complained about getting ill from them. Tsekos was fined $18,300. Michalis Dimitrakopoulos, Tsekos' lawyer, said all the imports were legal and there were documents to prove it.

Ephedrine is used in weight-reducing formulas and other medicines, and a version of the drug was linked to the death of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler. Some athletes take it to get a short-term energy burst and to increase alertness, but it's on the list of banned substances for Olympic competitors.

Kenteris, the 200-meter gold medalist at the Sydney Games, and Thanou, who took the silver in the 100 meters, could not be found at the Olympic Village for an Aug. 12 drug test. Hours later, they were in a motorcycle accident that kept them hospitalized for days.

The athletes deny taking banned substances, and say the accident happened because they were rushing back to the Olympic Village to be tested. The sprinters have withdrawn from the Olympics, and Kenteris has cut ties with Tsekos.

The Greeks have another problem in weightlifting. Leonidas Sampanis, who won a bronze medal this week and took silvers in 2000 and 1996, has tested positive for drugs in an initial sample.

The drug scandals have become a national embarrassment, according to a new poll.

The survey, conducted by Metron Analysis for the financial newspaper Imerisia, found that 85.2 percent of those questioned in a nationwide telephone poll agreed with Greek President Costis Stephanopoulos, who said the Kenteris-Thanou problem was ``a great embarrassment for the games.''

Slightly more than 70 percent of respondents blamed the athletes for mishandling the situation and nearly 80 percent also cast the blame on Tsekos.

Another 84.3 percent of Greeks questioned said performance-enhancing drugs must be eliminated from sports. No margin of error was given for the poll.

Concern about doping is so great that the Greek government plans to introduce doping tests in national high school sports competitions staring this fall, Giorgos Gourdovelis, the education ministry's director of physical education, told the daily newspaper Apogevmatini.

"We will aim to have more mass participation in high school sports and at the same time have mandatory doping tests in the national high school competitions,'' he said.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press