This Greek farce has its deadly serious aspects

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Few emerge from the muddled epic of Greece's two fallen athletes with any credit. A week ago, the shenanigans of the pair provided an entertaining low-life counterpoint to the grand and serious business of returning the Olympics to their ancient home. What with the no-show for the drugs test, the non-reported motorcycle accident, the scratches that necessitated days of bed-rest and drip-feeds, we all enjoyed the ride. What possessed the Greeks' brightest medal prospects to take a spin on a motorbike when the honour of the country was at stake?

Few emerge from the muddled epic of Greece's two fallen athletes with any credit. A week ago, the shenanigans of the pair provided an entertaining low-life counterpoint to the grand and serious business of returning the Olympics to their ancient home. What with the no-show for the drugs test, the non-reported motorcycle accident, the scratches that necessitated days of bed-rest and drip-feeds, we all enjoyed the ride. What possessed the Greeks' brightest medal prospects to take a spin on a motorbike when the honour of the country was at stake?

Soon, the tale assumed a darker aspect. Konstadinos Kederis and Ekaterina Thanou, it appears, have a history of avoiding drugs tests. After initial blustering, Kederis yesterday withdrew from the Games; Thanou followed. Whatever the rights and wrongs of who informed whom about the time of the crucial drugs test, the Greek sports authorities kept passing responsibility for dealing with the problem to someone else. Yesterday, the International Olympic Committee decided against punishment: the IAAF, which requires three, rather than two, no-shows for a ban, will now determine the penalty next week.

Nonetheless, the fact that Kederis and Thanou were placed in a position where they had little choice but to withdraw, despite their hero status in the country hosting the games, does indicate that the Olympic authorities are taking a tougher stand towards athletes who take banned substances. Even if an attitude prevails among some athletes that the only crime is getting caught - and among some testers that the cheats will always be one step ahead - that is no excuse for defeatism.

Dick Pound, the chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency, deserves praise for his single-minded pursuit of drugs cheats before and during these games. But the down-to-earth attitude of the Greek public should also be commended. Rather than defending their erstwhile heroes as unfairly persecuted and denouncing the IOC and the drug-testers as "anti-Greek", most Greeks have accepted the verdict with resignation and rejected their erstwhile heroes. If this sad episode offers any consolation, this is it.

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