Greece’s sprint heroes Kostas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou should be thrown out of the Athens Olympics according to the president of their own federation.
A furious Lambis Nikolaou emerged from a marathon four-hour meeting of the Hellenic Olympic Committee executive to reveal the organisation had decided to pass the thorny problem of what to do about Kenteris and Thanou’s failure to take a routine drugs test on Thursday firmly back to the International Olympic Committee.
After hearing evidence from all parties, the only conclusive decision the HOC arrived at was to suspend the pair pending Monday’s scheduled IOC disciplinary hearing – a completely empty gesture since they are not due to be released from hospital until tomorrow at the earliest.
After confirming the verdict, achieved with a five-to-one majority, an obviously frustrated Nikolaou added one telling sentence of his own, damning the athletes upon whom, until Thursday, the hopes of a nation had rested.
“The final decision wasn’t a unanimous one,” said Nikolaou. “I don’t think they should have been suspended, I think they should have been thrown out altogether.”
Given the chaotic scenes outside the HOC headquarters as the massed ranks of the media descended for the latest news on a saga that has dominated the Olympic news agenda over the past three days, it seems highly probable that the HOC have baulked at an outright expulsion that would almost certainly have brought an immediate legal challenge.
Instead they have decided to let the IOC handle the case and face the lawyers.
An HOC statement confirmed: “In wishing to keep the peaceful climate within the Olympic delegation, having unshakeable faith in ‘clean Games’ and always appreciating the contribution of the two champions, the HOC has decided to withdraw the two athletes of the Olympic team and their coach until a decision is made by the IOC.”
With Kenteris and Thanou still laid up following the mysterious motorcycle accident they were involved in late on Thursday night, hours after IOC doping controllers arrived at the Games Village to test the pair, it was left to their legal team, their coach Christos Tzekos, Nikolaou and Greek chef de mission Giannas Papadogiannakis to offer their observations.
As more information about Thursday night’s events comes to light, Papadogiannakis is emerging as a key figure.
When he left the building after giving evidence today, Papadogiannakis confirmed he had been contacted by the IOC in advance of the planned drugs test but had been unable to locate the athletes to tell them.
What the three-man IOC panel must therefore decide is whether it constitutes a genuine no-show, of which athletes are allowed two before they can be punished, or a refusal, for which the punishment is an automatic two-year suspension.
Also critical is whether the pair were chaperoned on their departure from the Games Village, which came almost immediately after they had flown in from their training base in Chicago.
On Friday, IOC president Jacques Rogge highlighted the reasons why athletes leaving the Village on their own is frowned upon.
“The principle of the tests, both in and out of competition, is that you should not allow the athletes to isolate themselves because it is possible to use catheterisation.
“You can empty all the urine from your body and eliminate doping substances. This has happened in the past and that is why doping control officials do not leave the athlete.”
Nikolaou has made his feelings fairly obvious, claiming ‘he couldn’t say’ why he reached the conclusion he has and he will now wait to see whether the IOC agree with him.
Neither athlete has been above suspicion over the course of their careers, with a number of reported instances of test avoidance, most recently when testers turned up at what was supposed to be a training camp in Crete last year only to find the pair were actually in Qatar.
Providing Kenteris and Thanou are cleared to attend Monday’s hearing, their fate should be known within 24 hours.