Greece is facing massive embarrassment at tonight's Athens Games opening ceremony as its two most celebrated athletes, Olympic 200m champion Konstadinos Kederis and the Olympic 100m silver medallist Ekaterina Thanou, face possible two-year suspensions after failing to report for doping tests.
Greece's two most celebrated athletes, Olympic 200m champion Konstadinos Kederis and the Olympic 100m silver medallist Ekaterina Thanou, face possible two-year suspensions after failing to report for doping tests.
Olympic and Greek officials confirmed that both athletes had missed scheduled tests because team managers had allowed them to leave the Olympic village yesterday evening.
In a further twist to what was already an astonishing turn of events, it was later reported that Kederis and Thanou had been involved in a motorbike accident and were taken to hospital.
They failed to attend today's formal hearing for missing the mandatory test because they were being kept in hospital. Olympic officials then gave them 72 hours to appear and explain what happened.
A senior Olympic official who refused to be named commented: "To me it's absolutely stupid. If he didn't turn up he's a fool and he deserves to be out."
But Istvan Gyulai, secretary general of the International Association of Athletics Federations, said:"According to our information the Greek team leader was informed but not the athletes. To our mind this doesn't constitute refusal."
Elite athletes are obliged to alert authorities of their whereabouts at all times to allow random drugs tests to take place. The Greek authorities have appealed to the International Olympic Committee to give their two athletes more time.
The IOC president Jacques Rogge summoned Kederis and Thanou to a disciplinary hearing today. "I have called for a discplinary hearing," Rogge said. "Process has started rolling."
An official Games statement confirmed that an IOC doping representative had arrived at the office of the Greeks' chef de mission, John Papadogiannakis, at 6.15pm and stated that he was looking for the two athletes in order to take sample collections, but "he did not find the athletes in their rooms".
The chef de mission then reportedly searched for the athletes and was told that they had left the Olympic Village in order to collect some of their personal belongings from their homes.
Team officials stressed that the athletes were coming back and asked for a few hours extension in order to return to the Olympic Village and submit themselves to doping control.
The recent case of Rio Ferdinand, who was suspended for eight months after failing to turn up to a scheduled test after a Manchester United training session, pointed up the fact that failure to attend a test is deemed equivalent to failing one as far as International Olympic Committee rules are concerned.
Kederis, recently voted as Greece's favourite citizen, has earned celebrity status for his achievements since astonishing the world by becoming the first Greek to win an Olympic title since 1912, just six months after finishing out of the medals in the European Indoor Championships.
A year later he won world 200m gold in Edmonton, then became the first to win all three leading titles with victory in the 2002 European Championships.
But the 31-year-old's startling success towards the end of his career has aroused suspicions, as he and his fellow Greek competitors have been accused of hiding themselves away from competing in meetings on the European circuit.
Kederis has only raced twice this season, once in Greece and once in Bulgaria as part of a Greek European Cup team.
His Olympic victory in 2000, where he carried the Greek flag in the Opening Ceremony, prompted the Sydney Morning Herald to ask the following morning: "Who the Hellas is Kostas Kenteris?"
Kederis has been coached since 2000 by Hristos Tzekos, who was involved in an incident seven years ago in which a doping control officer was reported to have been manhandled after arriving unannounced at a Greek training base from which the coach and a number of athletes made a sudden departure.
Two years ago there was another unfortunate incident at the Athens Grand Prix, when a number of home athletes including Kederis and Thanou were withdrawn overnight. This coincided with the surprise arrival at the meeting hotel of a drug testing team from the IAAF.
In April of the following year, Tzekos was cautioned for working with Kederis and Thanou in Qatar, unknown to national or international bodies.
At the 2002 European Championships in Munich there was open speculation about Thanou's victory in the 100m. Kim Gavaert, the Belgian who finished runner-up, told her home press: "The Italian who was third came up to me after the race and said: 'For me, you are the European champion.' I cannot help thinking the gold medal should be mine. I don't think Thanou is clean. She's always hiding."
Darren Campbell, beaten to the gold by Kederis in 2000, revealed recently that he had had a similar sentiment expressed to him by a fellow athlete. "They came up to me when I was going to the medal ceremony and said 'Don't worry, by the morning that will be gold'."
By tonight, the Greeks will be desperately hoping that their golden hopes have not turned to dust.