With Kenteris and Thanou out of Games, hometown suffers a big blow
Posted: Wednesday August 18, 2004 2:02PM; Updated: Wednesday August 18, 2004 2:07PM
Give the International Olympic Committee credit. By virture of simply being in the room when the bullet slipped into the chamber, by holding the disciplinary hearing at which, on Wednesday, Greek sprinters Kostas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou completed their collective career suicide, the IOC managed to pose as the ultimate warrior against doping without actually doing a thing.
The moment called for a picture, of course, so IOC communications director Giselle Davies promptly stepped up with the drug-fighter's version of a big-game hunter placing a foot on the carcass. With IOC legal advisor Francois Carrard making sure everyone at the IOC's press conference took note -- "There's your dramatic gesture." -- Davies held up the now-useless Olympic credentials of Kenteris, Thanou and coach Christos Tzekos for all to see. She might as well have been holding up three scalps. Click, went the camera shutters. Click, click.
It was, inarguably, a powerful shot. Encased in plastic, embossed with the mystifying symbols and numbers and letters summing up -- to some computerized superbrain -- the life and work of everyone rushing about an Olympic games, the credential is one of those items, like air and food, taken for granted until taken away. Lose it, and access stops; suddenly you can go nowhere and do nothing. In Olympic terms, you're dead. It doesn't matter where you stand on Kenteris and Thanou: To see those useless photos Wednesday afternoon was to see the anticipation that all Greece felt about these Athens Games just a week ago. For them, it wasn't just another ID; Kenteris and Thanou, winners of gold and silver in Sydney, are grinning so sweetly because this was their games, their city, their time. Now the credentials dangled from Davies' hand, spotlights and flashbulbs reflecting off the hard plastic. A week after the farce began, a day after Kenteris vowed to fight "to the last drop of my blood", both trooped into Wednesday's meeting, uttered a few introductory remarks and then gave up their credentials in what Davies termed "unequivocal surrender."
For them, probably forever, the Olympics are over. For Tzekos, too. But his is a different case, and not just because he's a coach. The picture on Tzekos' credential reflected something, too; of the three, only his is dark and glowering, the one resembling a mug shot. His methods had been suspect long before Kenteris became a shock winner in 2000. Tzekos had been suspended by the Greek Track Federation for two years in the late '90s for tussling with a drug-tester, and the ridiculous chase he and his charges led since July 30 -- testers tried to find them in Chicago, then the Olympic Village, then by phone all over Athens -- culminated in an absurd, phantom motorcycle accident and suspiciously long hospital stay. Even now, neither Kenteris and Thanou have ever tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs, so you can bet there will be some "comeback" bid launched down the road. But Tzekos is done. He made few friends in the Greek track federation with his insular and secretive ways, and after his hearing Kenteris announced "the end of my cooperation with Christos Tzekos." His scapegoating will be swift and total and very ugly.
Still, despite the pictures, nobody comes out of this mess looking good. The Greek Olympic Committee proved itself gutless when, the honor of its homecoming games at stake, it failed to yank all three from Greece's own Olympics last Saturday. The IOC proved itself short-sighted when it shut down its investigation with Wednesday's withdrawal and gave future cheaters a future blueprint for pre-emptive maneuvering. Greece's Olympics, of course, will now be remembered for great facilities, empty seats and a pair of homegrown cheaters, and it's tempting, indeed, to label this a modern Greek tragedy and move on.
But the fact is, the Kenteris/Thanou affair was farce from start to finish. Sprinter Ben Johnson got his taste of glory, remember. He set the world record in the 100 meters and then got busted at the Seoul Games; he knew greatness, no matter how tainted, knew what it felt like and saw it all slip away. But Kenteris and Thanou never had the chance to rise before the fall; they were surprises in Sydney, but this was their moment to soar into the stratosphere, to engrave their names in their nation's history forever. But now, instead of embodying Olympic values, the values Greece gave the world, Kenteris and Thanou seem destined to channel the paranoia and conspiracy-mongering that marks Greece at its worst. It began Wednesday and it will never end: Something went terribly wrong and everyone saw it, but Greece's best will blame everyone but themselves.