Rumours of systematic drug use cast shadow over Olympic climax

Click to follow
The Independent Online

All Greece should have been celebrating. Having confounded critics who had predicted the 2004 Olympics would be a shambles, the nation had hoped that, as the Games reached their conclusion, it would be basking in the glory of its greatest athletes. Konstadinos Kederis was to have defended his 200m title on Thursday night. But instead of cheers, boos of frustration rang out from home supporters.

All Greece should have been celebrating. Having confounded critics who had predicted the 2004 Olympics would be a shambles, the nation had hoped that, as the Games reached their conclusion, it would be basking in the glory of its greatest athletes. Konstadinos Kederis was to have defended his 200m title on Thursday night. But instead of cheers, boos of frustration rang out from home supporters.

Kederis and his training partner, Ekaterina Thanou, are lying low, having withdrawn from the Games under a cloud. In the fortnight following their famous missed drugs test and farcical "motorcycle accident", that cloud has darkened and spread to cast a shadow over all Greek sport.

In 1988, Greece won just one medal ­ a bronze ­ at the Seoul Olympics. A dozen years later, at Sydney, the nation's medal haul had grown to 13.

This year, with the surprise football triumph at Euro 2004 already under their belts, the Greeks were looking to do even better. The storm raises suspicions of how this remarkable improvement was achieved.

Public money has been ploughed into sport. Training methods have become more professional. But stories in the Greek press in recent days have implied that there may be a less wholesome explanation.

Leonidas Sampanis, Greece's first medallist of the Games, was stripped of his bronze medal after testing positive for banned substances. Thanou and Kederis are the subjects of an international athletics inquiry.

The offices of companies belonging to Christos Tzekos, Kederis and Thanou's controversial coach, were raided last week by food and drug enforcement officials. According to authorities, six kinds of banned substances were seized. Tzekos's lawyer said no illegal or banned substances were in the warehouse, and Tzekos himself has insisted all his athletes are clean.

But new claims are emerging. A letter is reported to have been sent to the Greek prosecutor by Lakis Nikolau, a doctor who used to be on the board of the football club AEK Athens. It is believed to concern substances administered to the club's footballers in the summer of 2000, when Tzekos briefly worked there as a fitness consultant.

In an interview videotaped at the time, recently obtained by The Independent, a Greek international player now identified as midfielder Vassilis Lakis claimed that Tzekos had given the players various unknown supplements. "He attempted to administer injections on myself and other players ... and we were fed pills containing unknown substances," said Lakis.

According to Nikolau, Tzekos worked with the club for two months before the Sydney 2000 Games. "He was giving out pills and injecting the players. Tzekos refused to provide information on what the substances were.

"I couldn't leave the players to take supplements that I had no details of," Nikolau continued. "That is when I asked for him to be removed. I wanted him out of the club because I didn't like these secret goings-on."

By then, however, Tzekos appeared relatively unconcerned. Shortly afterwards, his protégé, Kederis, amazed the world of athletics by winning the 200m at Sydney.

Tzekos's career was on a roll. It had begun in the late 1980s when, after quitting the track as a mediocre middle-distance runner, Tzekos moved to Chicago in search of a way into coaching. He took his steps into the burgeoning US nutritional supplements industry and met another Greek coach, Christos Ioakovou, the man he would later call his guru. It was at the invitation of Ioakovou, head coach of Greece's Olympic weightlifting team, that Tzekos found his way into coaching in Greece in 1994.

Christos Konstantinidis, a former Greek national champion, remembered the outspoken young coach. "Tzekos just appeared one day and began working with the weightlifters, no one said where he had come from."

Konstantinidis was dropped from the team in 1997. This week he reiterated a claim that he was dropped because he refused to take drugs. "I refused to go to training camps in Bulgaria, because we all knew what was going on there."

A legal attempt to prove the camps administered drugs collapsed, but no one disputes the Bulgarian connection. Just before the current Games, Ioakovou told the Greek daily Ta Nea that he had copied the training techniques of the former Bulgarian national weightlifting coach Ivan Abadjiyev, with whom he had "many connections". There is no evidence to link Ioakovou with drugs. Abadjiyev, though, resigned in disgrace after three of his athletes were stripped of medals at the Sydney Games; his entire team of Bulgarian lifters withdrew from the Seoul Games after being found to be taking drugs.

After his Sydney disgrace, Abadjiyev moved to Qatar, which now boasts a stable of world-class lifters. When the first whiff of scandal came in the Kederis-Thanou affair, the two sprinters, along with Tzekos, turned up in Qatar after declaring to athletics authorities that they would be available for testing at their training base on the island of Crete.

After being publicly dumped by his protégé Kederis in the wake of the Athens scandal, Tzekos has begun to be held to account. But until the degree and nature of his involvement in Greece's sporting successes of the past decade are fully explained, suspicion and rumour will continue to proliferate.

Reports in the Greek media have alleged that after Greece won the right to host the 2004 Olympics in 1997, Tzekos proposed to members of Greece's socialist government a ¤6m (£4m) programme to prepare the nation's athletes for Olympic success through the systematic use of untraceable banned substances. A former minister has claimed the advances contained no mention of doping and were rejected anyway. The current conservative administration has launched an inquiry.

While it does so, the sporting ideals of the country that gave birth to the Olympics have been sadly tarnished. Gold no longer glitters in Greece. Achievements such as Fani Halkia's win in the 400m hurdles on Wednesday have been overshadowed. Greek sport is in a state of paralysis until the full facts behind the Tzekos affair are made known.

Comments