Greek sprinters have some explaining

Sunday, August 15, 2004

The Associated Press

ATHENS -- Greeks love alibis every bit as much as the next guys, even if there's nothing in the native tongue that quite matches "The dog ate my homework."

But there might be by the time disgraced national hero Kostas Kenteris gets around to explaining how he crashed a motorcycle six hours after skipping out on yet another drug test, and 20 hours before he was the heavy favorite to light the Olympic flame in front of a worldwide audience.

Did we mention that fellow Greek sprinter and Olympic medalist Katerina Thanou just happened to be riding on the back?

And that they zoomed out of the athletes' village to collect a few things from home?

With their cell phones turned off?

On Friday the 13th?

"He will have to explain," Greek Olympic Committee spokesman Tassos Papachristou said, "or pay. There is no denying he wasn't in the right place at the right time."

Welcome to "My Big, Fat Greek Scandal."

Imagine Sammy Sosa crashing a motorcycle on the eve of the Cubs' first World Series appearance in almost 100 years. Or Tom Brady rushed to the emergency room after stepping on a broken bottle in a bar just as the Patriots are getting ready to defend their Super Bowl title. Or Shaquille O'Neal hit by lightning on a golf course with the Miami Heat on the verge of a Game 7 for the NBA championship.

Now roll all three of those nightmare scenarios into one and you've got some idea of how Greece feels.

"There is only one way to say it: big shame for us. Only that," officer George Minatsis said during a break from directing traffic. "It's all anybody talks about -- that, and not the opening ceremony.

"Now I would like to see him run," Minatsis added, "so we could boo him."

Whether Kenteris will defend the gold medal he won in the 200 meters at Sydney four years ago remains to be seen. Greece's Olympic Committee called an emergency board meeting for Saturday to discuss the case, and a source within the committee told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity that one of the topics will be whether Kenteris should pull out of the Olympics. Either way, he could still be disqualified by the IOC.

Track competition begins next Friday, but Kenteris has more immediate concerns. At the moment, he's hospitalized with "cranial trauma," whiplash and open wounds on his lower leg. Thanou, Kenteris' regular training partner, sustained abdominal bruises, injuries to her right hip and a muscular injury to her right upper leg. Both were in stable condition.

All of this would be easier to believe were it not for Kenteris' suspiciously lean competition schedule and the duo's questionable habit of being in the wrong place at the right time the last few times International Olympic Committee drug testers went looking for them.

Last year, they informed the IOC they'd by training in Crete, but had already moved on to Qatar by the time the sample collectors showed up. A few days ago, when the testers arrived in Chicago for a makeup, they just happened to be in Germany. So maybe it's just a coincidence, too, that their coach, Christos Tsekos, used to be a nutritional supplements salesman.

But maybe not.

After he came out of nowhere to win in Sydney, Kenteris was dubbed "Greek Lightning." He was athlete of the year here from 2000-02 and it's hard to spend much time in Athens without seeing him in TV commercials, on billboards or magazine covers.

But Greek fans and Kenteris' own federation have grown increasingly frustrated with each skipped race and every missed opportunity to clear up the drug question.

"Always, in the back of our minds, we are afraid he would pull something like this," said Minatsis, the traffic cop.

"The first ticket that sold out was the day of the 200 meters gold-medal final," said Papachristou, the Olympic Committee spokesman.

"It's for sure that our people are very hurt. They are saying, 'We are always behind you, we pay money for you and we have no good answers why you are not in the athletes' village. Explain us why."'

If Kenteris ever does, it better be good.


Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitkeap.org

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