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Monday: Thorpe tops Phelps; Greeks win gold

Posted: Tuesday August 17, 2004 2:22AM; Updated: Tuesday August 17, 2004 2:22AM
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ATHENS, Aug 16 (Reuters) -- Australian Ian Thorpe beat arch-rival Michael Phelps in a nail-biting Olympic men's 200-metre freestyle final on Monday between the four fastest swimmers in history.

Host nation Greece was given something to roar about after being plagued by a doping scandal when Nikolaos Siranidis and Thomas Bimis won the country's first gold medal at the Athens Games in the men's synchronised three-metre springboard diving.

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But Myanmar female weightlifter Nan Aye Khine was expelled from the Olympics after testing positive for a banned steroid as the drugs issue refused to go away at the Games.

World record holder Thorpe took the Games' big race swimming gold, just ahead of Dutchman Pieter van den Hoogenband.

Phelps, a 19-year-old American who arrived in Athens with a big build-up, was a distant third.

The delighted Thorpe whipped off his rubber cap and punched the air three times in triumph, flashing a smile.

"It was tough," said Thorpe, who also won the 400 freestyle gold at the weekend. "But I was able to produce a pretty good performance and I'm ecstatic about the result."

PULSATING FINISH

Van den Hoogenband, who won gold four years ago, led through 150 metres but Thorpe caught him in a pulsating finish.

The bronze finish in Thorpe's wake ended Phelps's hopes of equalling Mark Spitz's 1972 record of seven Olympic golds.

"It was my best time by half a second," Phelps said. "When you have a star-studded field like that and those guys are going so fast, it makes it all so exciting."

Swimmers have given the U.S. Olympic team all three of the golds it has captured so far -- Phelps in the 400 metres individual medley on day one and, on Monday, Natalie Coughlin in the women's 100 backstroke and Aaron Peirsol in the men's.

In the overall medals table, the sports superpower trailed leaders China, who won the top titles in diving, swimming, weightlifting on the third day of competition to take their gold medal tally to 10, as well as Australia (six) and Japan (five).

The Chinese won their third diving gold medal, with Lao Lishi and Li Ting winning the women's synchronised 10-metre platform event. Luo Xuejuan took China's first pool title, clinching the women's 100 metres breaststroke final.

Chen Yaqing won China's first weightlifting title of the Games, in the women's 58kg. Shi Zhiyong matched her feat in the men's 62kg, and Zhu Qinan won the men's 10-metre air rifle to give China their third shooting title in as many days.

"We came here with the reputation of being the 'Dream Team' and in order to live up to that reputation I had to get a gold," said Chen, 25, who set two Olympic records -- a total of 237kg and a snatch of 107.5kg -- in beating North Korea's Ri Song-hui.

HOME JOY

The crowd at the Olympic indoor pool erupted and new home nation heroes Nikolaos Siranidis and Thomas Bimis danced to traditional Greek music played over the public address system after their shock win.

"The crowd helped. That was our 'doping'," Siranidis said.

Despite its gold medal, Greece still had to endure the news that a state prosecutor had ordered an investigation into the nation's two top athletes, Costas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou.

The sprinters have been in hospital since a motorcycle crash after their no-show for a drugs test on the eve of the Games.

The hospital was ringed by reporters and television cameras awaiting their expected release from medical care on Tuesday.

Getting thrown out of their home country's Olympics would be the ultimate disgrace but their lawyer said it would not happen.

"On Wednesday, even on crutches, Kenteris and Thanou will be in front of the (International Olympic Committee disciplinary) panel. They will fight their fight and prove they're clean," Michalis Dimitrakopoulos said.

The hearing has already been postponed twice since Friday and the Greek Olympic committee has suspended the two athletes.

DRUGS EXPULSION

The IOC stripped Nan Aye Khine, 27, of her fourth-placed finish in the 48 kg weightlifting category after she gave a urine sample that tested positive for an unnamed steroid.

She is the second athlete to test positive during pre-Games testing in Athens following Kenyan bantamweight boxer David Munyasia, who was expelled on Friday.

A politically explosive challenge to the rules of the Games rumbled on in judo, as that sport's governing body stepped back from any immediate sanctions against Iran.

Iranian world champion Arash Miresmaeili refused to compete against Israel's Ehud Vaks at the weekend, in a political move Tehran unabashedly ascribed to its support for the Palestinians.

Israel had urged officials to penalise Iran, warning that no nation at the Olympics could be allowed to pick and choose.

Copyright 2004 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.

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