Mystery of the 'most popular man in Greece'

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The Independent Online

Konstadinos Kederis, to use his current official name, should have spent last night in a stadium under a spotlight as he lit the Olympic cauldron to start the Athens Games. Instead he spent it in a hospital, under a cloud, having ignited an Olympic firestorm.

The controversy surrounding the drugs tests that he and his Greek team-mate, Katerina Thanou, failed to take in the past few days, first in Chicago and then at the Olympic Village, has guaranteed him a dubious immortality.

"I cannot talk about him now," said one Greek official amid the throng at the main press centre here yesterday. He walked away, uncomfortable at the questions.

It was a typical reaction among locals. "He's fast," said one. But is he still a hero? A shrug. "We don't know what has happened to him."

Even his name is subject to debate. When he won in Australia he was Konstantinos Kenteris. His first name later became Kostas or Costas. Here he is Konstadinos Kederis.

He was born in Mitilini, the capital of the island Lesbos. He turned 31 last month, works as an officer in the Greek Air Force and is single.

In Greece, where he recently topped a poll as the most popular man in the country, he was voted Athlete of the Year for three consecutive years from 2000 onwards. But even the official Games database admits he was an "unknown entity among the ranks of world-class sprinting" four years ago. When he unexpectedly took gold Down Under, ahead of Britain's Darren Campbell in second place, he was adored at home and whispered about everywhere else.

He has never failed a drugs test, only failed to take them. His supporters attribute his remarkable improvement to his coach, Christos Tsekos, a former runner and businessman. Tsekos, who is also Thanou's coach, was the person five years ago who persuaded Kederis to switch from the 400m, where he was an average performer, to the 200m.

He made little impact at the latter distance in the European indoor championships of 2000, finishing last behind Britain's Christian Malcolm. Yet within six months he was Olympic champion, having taken a staggering quarter of a second from his personal best. He subsequently became European champion but rarely competes outside Greece.