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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 August, 2004, 11:46 GMT 12:46 UK
Greece in shock after duo pull out
By Matthew Davis
BBC News Online, Athens

There are feelings of shock and disgrace on the streets of Athens after two of Greece's leading athletes pulled out of the Olympics amid a doping controversy.

Kostas Kenteris
The sprinters deny any wrongdoing
News of the sudden withdrawal of Kostas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou have cast a shadow over the Games, the day after the country's second gold medal win.

Attitudes have hardened since the pair missed their random drugs test last week, with a sense of disbelief being overtaken by cynicism about the sport and a sense that Greece has been let down.

But there is also hope that the athletes will have ended the constant speculation over their future by quitting the Games.

Bank worker Barry Futis said: "To be honest, it is a relief. After everything that has happened, I hope this is the last act. It is an embarrassment for our country."

The sprinters - two of Greece's best known athletes - missed their doping test and were later allegedly involved in a mysterious motorcycle accident.

Andreas, Athens resident
There is so much pressure and hunger for success - to win for your sponsor, to make money - that there is no surprise if people will do anything
Andreas
Newspaper seller
They vehemently deny any wrongdoing - but this has not prevented the Greek media from casting doubt on their story.

Andreas, a newspaper seller, says whatever the truth, the controversy points to a sport in crisis.

"Kenteris, if he took drugs, he is only doing what everyone else is doing.

"There is so much pressure and hunger for success - to win for your sponsor, to make money - that there is no surprise if people will do anything."

Greece's image tarnished

The latest development is another blow to the image of Greece, which its leaders were hoping would be enhanced by hosting the Olympics and be a boost to investment.

Greek Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis - who reports say has been following the doping saga closely - is said to be incredibly "disappointed".

The Olympics is not only for Kenteris. It must now be an opportunity for drastic changes in sports
Vima
Greek newspaper
The morning's newspapers missed news of the resignations, but anticipated that the pair might quit.

The tabloid daily Eleftherotypia, under the heading "A change of scenery" suggested that by "returning their credentials" the athletes could draw a line under the whole affair.

Broadsheet Estia criticises the Greek authorities for not acting before the Olympic Games.

Had our leaders addressed the issue before the Games began, "we would not be in the position we are in now", says the paper.

Under the headline "Athletes and role models", it laments the effect that the saga may have on Greek sport.

"In order to help our young people make good decisions, they must have the right role models," it says.

Overshadowed

The achievements of Greece's other athletes, who have already won gold in diving and judo - are also being overshadowed.

"They should be the protagonists of these Olympic Games," said Estia.

The tabloid Vima predicted that Wednesday would be the "Time for catharsis".

I believe the Olympics are bigger than that, and Olympic values will prevail and be what Athens 2004 is remembered for
Miguel Indurain
Former Tour de France winner

"The Olympics is not only for Kenteris," it said. "It must now be an opportunity for drastic changes in sports."

Athletes have been polarised in their reaction. The Greek team is staying tight-lipped about events.

Earlier in the week, the Swedish track team had threatened to withdraw if Kenteris and Thanou were allowed to compete.

Five-times Tour de France winning cyclist Miguel Indurain - in Athens as a sponsor's ambassador - told BBC News Online on Tuesday: "It is a great pity for the whole Greek community. Kenteris is such recognised athlete - one of the biggest Greek heroes.

"But I believe the Olympics are bigger than that, and Olympic values will prevail and be what Athens 2004 is remembered for."



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