As the comic said, it's like déjà vu all over again. Four years ago, the leading Greek 200 metres sprinter was withdrawn from the national squad for the Athens Olympics for a violation of the anti-doping laws. Yesterday, following in the tainted spike-marks of Kostas Kenteris, Tassos Gousis found himself out of the Greek team for the Beijing Games after testing positive for the anabolic steroid methyltrienolone.
Gousis was sent home yesterday from a training camp in Japan, where the Greek squad have been preparing for the Olympic track and field programme, which begins in the Bird's Nest Stadium on Friday.
The positive test came from an out-of-competition sample given by the 29-year-old on home soil before leaving for the Far East. "The first sample returned positive," Tasos Papachristou, the Greek team's press officer, said. "He's not in the team now. He's travelling to Greece, where I imagine he will ask for the B sample to be tested."
Gousis, a native of Corfu, has not exactly been a world- beating bearer of the "Greece Lightning" mantle once borne by Kenteris, who emerged from obscurity to snatch the Olympic 200m crown from Britain's Darren Campbell in Sydney in 2000. He did, however, look to be in the throes of a similarly significant breakthrough when he clocked a scorching 20.11sec in the first-round heats at the World Championships in Osaka last summer, improving his lifetime best from 20.43sec and running faster than the thoroughbred speed merchants Usain Bolt and Tyson Gay. He reached the final but finished eighth and last in a modest 20.75sec.
Gousis' positive test is the latest in a spate of drug cases that have tarnished Greek Olympic athletes. In June the Inter-national Weightlifting Federation suspended 11 lifters after they too tested positive for methyltrienolone. And then there is still the question of whether Ekaterina Thanou will receive clearance from the International Olympic Committee to compete in the women's 100m in Beijing.
Along with Kenteris, who has hung up his racing spikes, Thanou was obliged to hand back her accreditation on the eve of the opening ceremony in Athens four years ago, was suspended by the International Olympic Committee and subsequently served a two-year ban imposed by the sport's world governing body, the International Association of Athletics Federations. This followed the pair's departure from the athletes' village when an IOC anti-doping team turned up to test them and their subsequent seclusion in hospital for five days following an alleged motorbike accident. The former training partners have been accused of faking the accident and still face charges in the Greek courts of perjury and falsifying evidence.
Thanou returned to international competition last year – drawing jeers from the crowd at the European Indoor Championships in Birmingham – but the IOC maintain that her Olympic suspension still stands, pending the outcome of a disciplinary commission hearing. That is due to be announced by Tuesday, but then there is also the matter of the legal action Thanou has threatened to take in pursuit of the Olympic 100m gold medal that Marion Jones won ahead of her in Sydney in 2000. The currently incarcerated American sprinter returned the prize last winter after confirmation that she had won it by means of illegal chemical assistance.
All of which continues the muddying of the international track and field waters. Thanou, who is 33 and intends to retire at the end of the season, has never tested positive for drugs. Neither has Kenteris. However, on the day they left hospital in Athens four years ago, police raided the premises of their coach, Christos Tsekos, and discovered 30 boxes of anabolic steroids along with 1,400 boxes of supplements containing the banned stimulant ephedrine.
Not that it is an entirely Greek sporting tragedy. Indeed, over the past nine days, a total of 12 Russian athletes – eight of them Olympic squad members – have been suspended for doping offences. The latest additions to the list, on Friday, were javelin thrower Lada Chernova and 3,000m steeplechaser Roman Usov. Chernova failed to make the cut for Olympic selection. Nonetheless, with five days still to go before the track and field action gets under way, it remains to be seen how many Russian athletes will be going for gold, silver and bronze in the Bird's Nest Stadium.