Kenteris, martyr or scoundrel?

  • Pirate Irwin (AFP), PTI, Athens
  • |
  • Updated: Aug 19, 2004 02:03 IST

They say that the last refuge of a scoundrel is he wrap himself in his national flag and Olympic 200metres champion Kostadinos Kenteris did that in spades when he withdrew from the Olympic Games on Wednesday.

The 31-year-old bowed out still protesting his innocence over failing to attend a mandatory drugs test last Thursday and cast himself in the role of a martyr, sacrificing his hopes of winning the title so his country could get on with enjoying their hosting of the Games.

The IOC evidently thought not and said they had enough evidence to have kicked him and training partner Ekaterini Thanou out if they had persisted in saying they were innocent.

Kenteris had previously been thought of as a mythical figure suitably enough for a Greek but in the past two days he has cast himself as a Messianic figure.

"After crucifixion comes resurrection," Kenteris said.

Sadly for him and the world it was not to be or at least for the present and at 31 it is hard to see him remaining competitive.

But he will at least be known as the only European to have held the Olympic, world and European titles at the same time, no matter that with the controversy over the past week will for many cast a shadow over that.

Kenteris has always been a man of mystery and the past week have only heightened that aura.

However, while to his compatriots he has been an icon, to many outside Greece he had been a mythical figure due to the rarity of his appearances on foreign tracks apart from in major championships.

That was the concern raised by the International Olympic Committee when they visited Athens last year for a Co-Ordinating Committee meeting and asked their hosts why Kenteris shied away from the lucrative European circuit.

They took offence, according to an IOC member present at the meeting, and said it was a slur on Kenteris and insisted that all Greek athletes were clean.

"It was typical Greek arrogance," the IOC member told AFP following the revelation of him and Thanou missing the test on Thursday, apparently because they had left the Olympic Village to gather their belongings from their home.

While many try for the riches of the Golden League series and Grand Prix circuit, Kenteris explained his absence from the international scene was not down to any dark practices on his part but for a simpler reason - unlike the majority of US athletes, he has a life outside athletics.

He works on the administrative side in the Greek airforce and also earns good money from the Greek Sports Ministry, though the latter funding could well disappear if on August 26 the IAAF find him guilty of avoiding the dope test and hand him a year's ban.

"Because of the support the government has given me since Sydney I don't need to compete for money on the international circuit," he said in a rare interview.

"I can focus my energies on the major international competitions."

Focus he certainly has on the majors and most effectively, bursting onto the scene at the Sydney Olympics where he stunned the likes of Ato Boldon, Darren Campbell and John Capel in thrashing them in the 200m final to become Greece's first male Olympic champion in athletics since 1912.

1912 and what has now befallen him have a certain appositeness as that was the year the allegedly unsinkable Titanic found an iceberg could do the job very well thank you.

However that calamitous event was far from his mind on the balmy evening in Sydney when he let his years of frustration surface.

"I dedicate this medal to me personally for all the things I have suffered," he said.

The world and European gold medals followed, making him the only man to hold all three titles, only for the allusions about his success to resurface last year when he withdrew at the last minute from the world championships in Paris.

Again 'The Teflon Man' - whose now former coach Christos Tzekos has already served a two year ban from the sport for preventing drugs testers testing his athletes in 1997 - was defended to the hilt by the Greek Federation.

"This attack against an athlete who has honoured Greece raises questions about their motives and can only be malicious," they said.

It was noticeable that throughout the past week Kenteris, who became even more of a hero when he headed up several fundraisers for the victims and their families of the Aegean ferry disaster in 2000, received no support - public anyway - from that same federation.

Despite the bravura outside the hotel where he had just seen his Olympic hopes disappear a devastated Kenteris will sit at home contemplating what might have been.

One could probably bet that the night of the 200m final here it will not be that he is watching but a video of the glorious night four years ago when he really was top of the world.


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