International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge used his opening Olympic address to remind the world’s athletes of the need to set an example - less that 24 hours before Greece’s most famous athletes face expulsion from their own team.
Speculation is mounting that an emergency meeting of the Hellenic Olympic Committee will this afternoon decide to dump Sydney gold medal winner Kostas Kenteris and silver medallist Katerina Thanou.
The pair, who will remain in hospital over the weekend following a mysterious motorcycle accident on Thursday evening, are due to face an IOC disciplinary hearing on Monday to explain why they missed a routine drugs test at the Athletes’ Village on Thursday even though Greek team bosses had been told doping controllers were on their way.
Ironically, it appears increasingly likely that neither athlete will have recovered in time to compete in the Games, although that does not look like stopping the Greek association from taking decisive action over an incident that has caused huge embarrassment to the competition organisers, and also to the IOC and Rogge, who has made the fight against drugs one of the central components of his presidency.
Rogge has already warned Kenteris and Thanou not to expect any leniency should a three-man panel decide they are guilty and, in front of a capacity 75,000 crowd and the thousands of athletes gathered in the centre of Athens’ brilliant new Olympic Stadium, the Belgian urged them to adhere to the Olympic truce and spurn the desire to cheat.
“Athletes, this is the moment you deserve to enjoy,” he said.
“You deserve to enjoy the culmination of all your hard work and dedication. Through your conduct give us reasons to believe in sport by refusing doping and respecting fair play, that is increasingly critical.
“We need peace and tolerance and brotherhood. Athletes from the 202 countries show us the spirit by overriding national, political, religious and language barriers.
“May the Games be held in peace in the true spirit of the Olympic truce which was created here.”
From their beds in the KAT hospital in Athens, the words may have stung Kenteris, who would probably have lit the flame at last night’s opening ceremony had it not been for the events of the past 48 hours and Thanou, the first Greek woman to win an indoor world championship in 2001.
Both their careers have been shrouded in controversy, mainly due to their secrecy, relative inactivity and the fact that Kenteris previously avoided a drug test in Mexico last year without sanction.
It has been suggested IOC officials attempted, without success, to test the pair at their training camp in Chicago, from where they only flew into Athens on Thursday afternoon, although this has not been verified.
They were certainly absent when IOC officials called round at 6.15pm the same day, although IOC medical officer Patrick Schamasch did manage to visit them in hospital early yesterday morning.
The case is eerily like the one which saw Manchester United’s Rio Ferdinand banned for eight months in January and is probably the biggest drugs story to hit an Olympics since Ben Johnson’s infamous steroid-fuelled spring to glory in Seoul 16 years ago.
Yet Rogge insists the Olympics are robust enough to survive the negative impact.
“The Games are much stronger than any individual athlete,” said Rogge, who claimed on Tuesday that he expected more positive tests at these Games than there were in Sydney four years ago.
“We have had big doping cases before that have not damaged the quality of the Games.
“Any athlete that we can catch, sanction and send out of the Olympic Village is a victory for sport. It strengthens the Games. The more we catch, the better it is.”