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Last Updated: Friday, 13 August, 2004, 09:49 GMT 10:49 UK
Shadow hangs over Athens
By Andrew Fraser and Matt Davis
BBC Sport in Athens

Kostas Kenteris
The timing could not have been worse.

With just 24 hours to go to the opening ceremony, the Greeks were preparing to show the world that no one can do the Olympics quite like them.

But suddenly the news broke that their sprint stars Kostas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou had missed a drugs test.

The blanket Olympic television and radio coverage, until then focused on Friday's big show, immediately switched to the prospect of two of the nation's biggest medal hopes being banned from the Games.

Stunned Athenians were greeted by headlines such as 'Black Night', 'All Greece Frozen' and 'Shadow over the Big Celebration' as they pored over the morning's newspapers for the latest developments.

'The Light Goes Out', declared Sportime, juxtaposing pictures of Kenteris - who had been expected to light the flame at the opening ceremony - with the flame itself.

And as Kenteris and Thanou remained in hospital after a late-night road accident, Ethnos summed up the sense of anxiety and confusion by declaring 'Tell us the Truth'.

You miss a test, but it does not mean you are taking drugs
Athenian shop worker
Alex Angelopoulos
Greeks on their way to work in central Athens were shocked by the news.

"Kenteris is a massive star here - you can see his image all over Athens," Antonis Kazastogonnis, 33, told the BBC.

"If he is guilty, it will be a massive blow for Greece.

"What can we know as ordinary people? It will be days before we understand what has gone on."

A man identifying himself only as Dimitri was reading about the Kenteris affair in an Athenian newspaper.

"If he is taking drugs it is a disgrace for us," he said.

"But why is this happening now? Athens should be celebrating."

Shop worker Alex Angelopoulos, however, said the public should not rush to judge Kenteris, who enjoys a profile in his homeland similar to that of David Beckham in England.

"Yes, there have been doubts about him in the past, but not here. You miss a test, but it does not mean you are taking drugs," said Angelopoulos.

For now, as the hours tick down to what has been billed as an "awesome" opening ceremony, Greeks can only watch and wait.

But, after putting up with the last-minute dash to be ready for the Games, heightened security and a budget over-run, a potential drugs scandal is the last thing they need.

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