Kenteris: a shrouded career dogged at every step

The sprinter at the centre of the Greek drama has always been controversial

The Kenteris was shipshape and Bristol fashion yesterday. The 1,300-tonne speed machine was sailing along nicely, unlike the 11st 7lb sprinter after whom she was named.

Any remaining hope of Konstantinos Kenteris featuring in his home-country Olympics was probably scuttled by the Greek Olympic Committee, who suspended him and his training partner, Katerina Thanou, from the national track and field team pending tomorrow's IOC hearing. They also face two-year suspensions after failing to attend two drugs tests last week. For Kenteris, at 31, it could be the end of the line.

It has become a routine joke in Greece to ask what the Aeolos Kenteris, the ferry with the capacity to carry 1,742 passengers across the Aegean from Piraeus to Lesbos, and Kenteris, the athlete who had been expected to carry the hopes of 10,800,000 Greeks into the Athens Olympics, have in common. The answer? They are both fast but keep breaking down. The question all Greece is asking is whether the nation's most beloved sporting son had broken down for good.

Whatever drama actually unfolded on Poseidon Street in the northern suburbs of Athens in the early hours of Friday morning - and there are many in Athens who are unconvinced that Kenteris and Thanou suffered a motorbike accident there, despite official bulletins from the KAT Hospital - the reigning Olympic 200 metres champion would finally appear to be heading for disaster.

In the other Poseidon Adventure, the Hollywood version, Gene Hackman and most of his fellow star-passengers managed to survive, but the ship sank without trace. The chances are that Kenteris and Thanou, having dodged two drugs tests too far, in Chicago on Monday and in the Olympic village on Thursday, will go the same way as the stricken vessel.

Their real-life disaster movie has been a long, long time in reaching a dénouement. At Sydney, when Kenteris emerged from obscurity to win the 200m ahead of Darren Campbell, he was asked at his victory press conference, in the bowels of Stadium Australia, how many times he had been tested for drugs. Before he could reply, his coach, Christos Tzekos, barged on to the stage, grabbed the microphone, and bellowed: "Three or four times. Now, are you satisfied?"

The silence was deafening. Just six months earlier, Kenteris had finished last in the 200m final at the European Indoor Championships in Ghent. His name was conspicuously absent from the 2,500 athletes profiled in the 2004 edition of Who's Who in World Athletics.

His anonymity was such, in fact, that the former British international Mark Richardson was unaware until informed by The Independent on Sunday yesterday that Kenteris had finished behind him in the 400m final at the 1991 European Junior Championships in Thessaloniki. "I didn't know I'd ever run against him," Richardson said. "I can't remember him at all. He wasn't on the radar then."

Kenteris has long since made a name for himself; a name, for the record, which he prefers to translate from Greek to English as Kenteris, as carried by the ferry and the street named after him in his home village in Lesbos, rather than the less frequently used Kederis. He has, however, made a habit of disappearing off the radar when the drugs testers happen to be on his trail.

As mentioned in these pages a week ago, he and Thanou have become a pair of Scarlet Pimpernels. The testers sought them here and sought them there, but instead of being in Crete, as they had informed their national federation, the Hellenic Amateur Athletic Association, they were actually in Qatar. Tzekos was reprimanded for not declaring their correct location, as required by the laws of the International Association of Athletics Federations, and the IAAF also issued the Greek federation with an official warning.

It was nothing new for Tzekos. Back in 1997, he was banned for two years by the IAAF for employing what were described as "strong-arm tactics" to prevent four of his athletes from undergoing drugs tests at an indoor meeting in Germany. And in 2002, Kenteris and Thanou were among a number of Greek athletes withdrawn overnight from the starting lists at the Athens Grand Prix when an IAAF testing team turned up unannounced at the athletes' hotel.

Later that summer, despite not having competed outside of their country, Kenteris and Thanou both surged to commanding victories at the European Championships in Munich - leaving a stream of disgruntled rivals in their wake. Kim Gevaert, who finished second to Thanou in the women's 100m final, told the Belgian press: "I can't help thinking the gold medal should be mine. I don't think she is clean. She's always hiding."

In Cyprus yesterday, preparing for the Olympics, Gevaert was reluctant to take developments as a definite sign that Thanou had nowhere left to hide. "I just hope the authorities will treat their case the same as athletes from other countries."

Having seen the Greek sprinters keep the testers on the run for so long, their rivals are not banking on them being caught this time. Avoiding two tests, however, is a suspendable offence under the rules of the International Olympic Committee. And, while the hospitalisation of Kenteris and Thanou has bought them three days' grace before facing an IOC disciplinary committee, it has provoked more suspicion than sympathy.

An IOC member, who asked to remain anonymous, confided: "We know there was an accident but people are wondering what actually happened. There is a great deal of suspicion and confusion."

Even an official of the Hellenic Amateur Athletic Association, who also asked not to be named, confessed: "I can understand why people are suspicious. There's nothing wrong with athletes taking their own motorbike, but you would think at this stage they would have either been in an official car or with a police escort. The whole thing is a disaster."

It is indeed. It could become known as The Poseidon Street Misadventure.

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