Friday: Greek drug woe overshadows Phelps
Posted: Saturday August 21, 2004 1:24AM; Updated: Saturday August 21, 2004 1:24AM
ATHENS, Aug 20 (Reuters) -- Greece were rocked by the threat of being stripped of an Athens Games medal and the host nation's team manager offered to quit on Friday, as doping overshadowed Michael Phelps' drive to be Olympic swimming's top medal winner.
Weightlifter Leonidas Sampanis, a national hero days ago when he won his country's first medal at the Games, became the latest Greek athlete to be hit by drug woes that have plagued the Olympics throughout their first week.
"I am stunned. I am going mad. We do not, and I stress this, do not, give our athletes testosterone," Sampanis's coach Christos Iakovou said after confirming the athlete had tested positive for a banned substance.
If Sampanis' second sample tests positive he will be stripped of his bronze medal and expelled from the Games.
Hours later Greek team manager Yiannis Papadoyiannakis offered to resign, but his bosses quickly tried to smooth over the new embarrassment in a saga that the Greek government has warned threatens the image of the birthplace of the Olympics.
"The president of the Greek Olympic Committee (Landis Nicolau) ... refused to accept it so he remains in charge of the Greek Olympic team for now," said team spokesman George Gakis.
The Sampanis issue made the wrong headlines for the host nation just as it had hoped to end the drugs debacle surrounding Olympics 200 metres champion Costas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou after they made their own decision to withdraw from the Games.
But other countries have not been immune from the doping issue and the International Olympic Committee said an Uzbek and an Indian had become the first athletes to produce positive tests since the Games began.
Uzbekistan's 27-year-old woman shot putter Olga Shchukina and Indian female weightlifter Sanamacha Chanu, 25, were both expelled, joining others barred after pre-Games drugs tests.
In Friday's sporting action, Phelps beat team mate Ian Crocker in a close 100 metre butterfly final to win his fifth gold and seventh medal at the Games.
The 19-year-old American is now almost certain to become the the first swimmer to win eight medals at a single Olympics -- without swimming a stroke on Saturday.
Phelps pulled out of the U.S. medley relay squad for Saturday's final to give Crocker the chance to swim but if the American team win as expected, he would still pick up a sixth gold medal because he swam in the heats on Friday.
That would give him the eight medals that would outnumber the Olympic trophies of the likes of Mark Spitz and Matt Biondi in a single Games.
"I think it will be the most beautiful week of my life," said Phelps, who would also become the only athlete to match Soviet gymnast Alexander Dityatin's 1980 record for the most medals at one Games.
His Games effectively over, Phelps is now looking forward to indulging in some fast food -- hamburgers, fries and apple pie.
"It's a good thing to be able to sit back and relax a little but when tomorrow's final comes I will be in the stands and cheering as hard as I can for the U.S. team," he said.
On the opening day of the Games's centrepiece athletics programme, Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele succeeded his mentor Haile Gebrselassie as the Olympic 10,000 metres champion after an astonishing final lap in the longest track event.
Gebrselassie -- generally acclaimed as the greatest distance runner in history -- limped painfully from the Olympic stadium after completing the final track race of his glittering career, showing the grace in defeat he has always displayed in victory.
Troubled by a painful left Achilles tendon, the 31-year-old Gebrselassie finished fifth.
"I tried, it didn't work," he said. "The last four to five laps, the pain started. Today it just didn't happen."
After winning two Olympic 10,000 gold medals and four world titles and setting 18 world records, Gebrselassie now plans to step up to the marathon.
The first of the day's two gold athletics medals went to Ivano Brugnetti, who won Italy's first race walk title since Maurizio Damilano at the 1980 Moscow Olympics.
"I dedicate this victory to the mother of my girlfriend who is fighting a serious illness," said Brugnetti.
After day seven of the Games, the United States led the medals table with 17 golds, 12 silvers and 11 bronzes, followed by China with 15 golds, 11 silvers and 10 bronzes.
Japan held on to third place and Australia were fourth in the battle for supremacy at the world's top sporting event.
Politics intruded again at the Games when Iraq's Olympic soccer team voiced anger when told President George W. Bush had used their country in a political broadcast to win votes in the campaign for the U.S. presidential election in November.
"Iraq as a team does not want Mr. Bush to use us for the presidential campaign," midfielder Salih Sadir was quoted as saying by Sports Illustrated magazine. "He can find another way to advertise himself."
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