Olympic champion Kostas Kenteris and Sydney silver medallist Katerina Thanou dramatically pulled out of the Athens Games – to avoid the humiliation of being thrown out.
Amid chaotic scenes, first Kenteris, then Thanou, then their controversial coach Christos Tzekos entered the Greek capital’s Hilton Hotel and officially handed their Olympic accreditation over to the three-man IOC disciplinary panel.
While the two athletes independently strode outside to face a massive media scrum and protest their innocence, IOC judicial advisor Francois Carrard told a different story as he confirmed the case had now been referred to the International Association of Athletics Federations, who are expected to formally suspended the pair pending further inquiries at their scheduled monthly meeting on August 26.
“The athletes have maintained they have done nothing wrong, which is their right and it is true they have never tested positive,” said Carrard.
“But the disciplinary committee felt they had enough material and evidence to lead to a sanction for the Athens Games.
“In the end, the case didn’t get that far because the athletes voluntarily agreed to surrender their accreditation.”
Showing no sign of the injuries they spent five days being treated for in the KAT hospital following their mysterious motorcycle accident in the early hours of Friday morning, Kanteris and Thanou effectively ended the IOC’s concern with the case by today’s shock move.
At 31 and 29 respectively, it will almost certainly mark the end of their Olympic careers and once the IAAF have examined the case files it is conceivable neither of them will ever race again.
Under IAAF rules, three ‘no-shows’ for random drug tests means an automatic two-year ban.
The organisation already have one case on file – in Tel Aviv last month - awaiting investigation and the IOC have already confirmed their testers unsuccessfully attempted to meet Kenteris and Thanou twice during ‘a pattern of conduct and a general lack of information, misinformation and missed information about their whereabouts and availability from July 30 until they entered hospital on August 13’.
“We have clear rules about what constitutes a missed test and the IOC regulations compliment those of the IAAF, not contradict them,” said IAAF anti-doping chief Arne Ljungqvist.
“We will discuss the case on August 26 but we will probably not have a final ruling until well after the Games.”
The IOC will continue to investigate some specific details of the case to establish whether any other accredited officials were involved and reserve the right to oust anyone they believe contributed to a sorry saga that has completely overshadowed the first week of the Games and contributed to a disappointing lack of spectators at many venues.
There was total irony that IOC president Jacques Rogge set off on his trip to the ancient site of Olympia – the spiritual home of the Games – less than 30 minutes after Kenteris had delivered his defiant speech and severed links with Tzekos, who is thought to have advised him against withdrawal.
“With a sense of responsibility and in the national interest, I am retiring from the Olympics,” said Kenteris, who stunned the athletics world with his surprise triumph in Sydney and came out of hospital yesterday and told the nation “after the crucifixion will come the resurrection”.
Outside the Hilton today he said: “I have passed 30 drug tests in the last four years. I declared all the facts of my case which state that I am innocent.”
Thanou, runner-up to Marion Jones four years ago, was even more unequivocal.
“The people who are accusing me are the ones who stood by me for photos after my victories; others don’t even know me.
“It’s a very hard thing for an athlete to withdraw from the Olympic Games, especially when they are in your homeland.”
Carrard refuted suggestions that in effectively jumping before they were pushed – after twice delaying the hearing on medical grounds – the Greek sprinters had reduced the Olympic ideal to rubble.
The IOC have no power to investigate the motorcycle accident, which is currently the subject of a Greek judicial inquiry, although Carrard admitted it was ‘highly unusual’ for two such high profile athletes to be roaring around the streets of Athens riding pillion so close to their events.
“This is a very serious matter but it is not the kind of simple situation you have with positive tests,” added Carrard.
“We are not talking about analysing A and B samples, this is about establishing the reasons for a pattern of behaviour during a specific period.”