January 11, 2011 / 12:47 PM / 7 years ago

Greek sprinters set to stand trial

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek sprinters Kostas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou are finally set to face trial for allegedly making false statements to authorities in a doping scandal on the eve of the 2004 Athens Games.

The trial, which has been repeatedly postponed, will be heard by an Athens misdemeanour court starting on Wednesday.

Greece will be hoping that the conclusion of the trial will help close an ugly chapter in the country's sporting history.

Former marathon runner and Greek record holder Maria Polyzou is now an ambassador for Greek sport and a member of the organising committee for the Athens Classic Marathon.

"I think the important thing is for everything to be put in order and for the truth to come out, whatever that may be, so people can get on with their lives normally," Polyzou told Reuters.

"Those events had a very negative impact on the Athens Olympics from the point of view of Greeks and the world and the whole affair has not been kind to Greek sport," she added.

"Whatever the outcome, hopefully it offers a chance to mark the end of what has been a harmful episode for sport in this country."

Kenteris, the 200 metres gold medallist at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and favourite to be flag bearer at the 2004 Games, and Thanou, 100 metres silver medallist in Sydney, missed a drugs test at the Athens Olympics and said they had crashed a motorcycle on the way to the athletes' village.

HUGE CLOUD

The saga, which cast a huge cloud over the Games for the Greek hosts and ruined the careers of the two athletes, was the biggest Olympic doping scandal since Canadian Ben Johnson lost his 100 metres gold medal at the 1988 Seoul Games.

An inquiry into the crash found discrepancies in Kenteris and Thanou's testimony, witness statements and medical reports regarding their injuries. One witness was charged with perjury.

If convicted, the pair could face up to a five-year suspended prison sentence.

The duo were acquitted of doping charges in a Greek athletics federation probe in 2005. Their former coach Christos Tzekos was given a four-year suspension for his involvement in the affair.

The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) appealed the verdict at the Court of Arbitration for Sport. They settled out of court in 2006 and subsequently admitted only to anti-doping rule violations, essentially serving out their unofficial two-year suspensions.

Kenteris never competed again but Thanou returned to international competition at the 2007 European Indoor Athletics Championships in Birmingham and was booed by the crowd before finishing sixth in the final.

She was selected by Greece for the Beijing Games in 2008 but was barred by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Both athletes have kept a low public profile since, Kenteris relocating to the prefecture of Ioannina in central Greece to open a boutique hotel. Thanou retired in May 2010 and is reportedly set to take up coaching.

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