London Spy

Where are they now? Kostas Kenteris

London Spy

View gallery

.

Kenteris shocked the world to win the 200m in Sydney

"When I heard all these people - the thousands of people - shout my name, it was the most beautiful thing that I have heard in recent years."

When you look at the above quote from Kostas Kenteris you would expect he was referring to the moment in 2000 when he shocked the sporting world to take 200m gold at the Sydney Olympics.

Instead the comments were about a race four years later, a race that he did not even take part in.

Again it was the 200m final at the Olympics, this time in his home country of Greece — the Games' Mecca — but Kenteris was not there to defend his Olympic title in front of his adoring home fans.

Just before the 2004 Olympics were about to start, Kenteris withdrew from the Games after missing a doping test.

He had been promoted as the face of the Games, there was even speculation that he would be asked to light the Olympic torch; but on the eve of the Games he was hospitalised after a motorcycling crash that occurred while on his way to the doping test.

Or so his story went in any event.

With him at the time was his fellow Greek sprinter and training partner Katerina Thanou, who also missed the test and therefore the Olympics. Again, she was being promoted as one of the darlings of the Games but like Kenteris, she withdrew "for the best interests of the country."

Kenteris was born on the island of Lesbos in 1973 but there was little indication in the early stages of his career that he was going to be an athlete of much note.

In 1993 he did finish sixth in the 200m of World Junior Championship and won gold at the Mediterranean Games the same year but that was as good it got until 1999 when, aged in his mid-20s, he decided it was time to change his coach.

His new mentor was Christos Tzekos — a controversial figure who had previously been banned for two years for manhandling a doping official who was trying to test some of his athletes.

Encouraging signs of progress quickly followed. At the European Indoor Championships in 2000 Kenteris finished 5th, his best international result to date, but there was still nothing in that performance to suggest he would be a big player at the Olympics which were now just a few months away.

Before the 200m began in Sydney, Kenteris was considered an outsider to even reach the final but a national record of 20.14 in the second round raised eye brows.

He was then joint-third fastest qualifier for the final but it was still a huge upset when he won the gold in a time of 20.09 ahead of Britain's Darren Campbell and Trinidad and Tobago's Ato Boldon.

People turned to his trainer Tzekos to ask how he had managed to turn a man previously seen as an athletics journeyman into one of the fastest men in the world.  The controversial coach brushed aside the controversial connotations of such questions and simply said it was down to "a unique combination of strengthening and stretching work."

A Greek superstar was born but not a global one. While Olympic champions traditionally milk their newfound fame for all it is worth, Kenteris seemed to go out of his way to avoid the international circuit away from only its biggest events.

He did show that his win in Sydney was no fluke by winning the 2001 World Championships in Edmonton and he also took European Championship gold in Munich the following year in a personal best time of 19.85.

However, outside of those events, a Grand Prix victory in Florence in 2003 was the only time he ran on the main athletics circuit outside of Greece in between the Olympics.

He shunned the tens of thousands of pounds he could have earned on the Golden League circuit and was instead happy to take funding from the Greek government who made him an honorary sergeant in the national air force on a salary of £55,000-a-year.

The 'motorcycle incident' cast a huge shadow on the opening of the Athens Olympics but it was not without precedent either.

In 2002, Kenteris and Thanou also withdrew from a Grand Prix meeting in the Greek capital at the last minute and then a year later Tzekos was giving a warning for telling the IAAF that the two athletes were training in Greece when they were actually in Qatar.

Kenteris also missed the 2003 World Championships with a mysterious 'leg injury' and in 2004 he flew to Greece from Chicago for the Games a day earlier than expected meaning that he missed yet another drugs test.

The men's 200m in Athens was eventually won by American Shawn Crawford but the race itself has been largely forgotten.

What endures instead is the 70,000 crowd whistling the finalists and chanting Kenteris' name.

"The crowd's expression of love gives me the strength and courage to fight in these difficult times in order to be present again in the stadiums," Kenteris said the day after the race.

He would indeed fight for his name and his reputation, a long drawn out battle that twice reached the Greek courts only last year.

However, ultimately, he would never be seen competing in a major athletics event again.

WHERE IS HE NOW?

"I am proud as a Greek, because the decision demonstrates that the (athletes) were totally clean."

The above quote did not come from Kenteris but rather his lawyer Michalis Dimitrakopoulos who was speaking outside an Athens appeal court just last September.

Kenteris, an intensely private man, was not even in the courtroom when he was

View gallery

.

Kenteris outside an IOC hearing in 2004

acquitted of perjury for allegedly lying about the now infamous motorcycling crash that may or may not have happened just before the Athens Olympics.

Earlier in 2011, the long-running legal dispute had gone against Kenteris as, along with Thanou, he was giving a suspended jail sentence of 31 months for lying about the crash incident which the presiding judge deemed had never taken place.

After the initial trial, Tzekos was also sentenced to 33 months, while two witnesses to the supposed crash and several doctors who treated the athletes in hospital were given shorter sentences.

All were cleared after the appeal process except for Tzekos whose sentence was reduced to 12 months — his conviction was not for perjury but rather for possessing and trading banned substances.

Kenteris never failed a drugs test but his career ended the night of his supposed motorcycle crash.

Late in 2004 he was banned by the IAAF for missing three doping tests but again was acquitted on appeal in 2005 due to reasonable doubt.

In the summer of 2006 both he and Thanou finally came to a settlement with the IAAF where they accepted they have been in breach of IAAF rules by missing three tests in 2004 which cleared them of the heavier charge of refusing to be tested.

In December 2006 they were both free to return to competition but Kenteris was now 33 and was never seen on the international athletics circuit again.

Thanou tried to make a comeback but it was dogged by injury and she was then banned from the 2008 Olympics by the IOC for "defaming the Olympic Movement."

Both will say that their names were finally cleared by the appeals court in Athens last year, but while Kenteris' lawyer might say the decision proves the athletes were 'totally clean,' the court did not actually corroborate the pair's story, but rather expressed reasonable doubt as to whether or not the motorcycling crash actually took place.

The Kenteris-Thanou Olympic story appears to be over, but the mystery remains.

View Comments (1)