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Greek sprinters pull out week after missing test

ATHENS, Greece -- Greek sprinters Kostas Kenteris and
Katerina Thanou pulled out of the Athens Games on Wednesday, nearly a
week after they missed a drug test and were later hospitalized
following a suspicious motorcycle crash.

"I'm withdrawing from the Olympics,'' Kenteris said after
meeting with the International Olympic Committee's disciplinary
commission.

He also said he cut ties with his coach, Christos Tsekos, who
had been suspended by the Greek Olympic Committee, along with the
two runners.

The IOC's executive board went ahead with its hearing despite
the runners' announcement and later decided to refer the case to
the International Association of Athletics Federations. The IAAF
will discuss the case Aug. 26 but will not rule until well after
the games, said Arne Ljungqvist, the group's anti-doping chief.

The IOC referred the case to the sport's governing body because
any immediate sanctions became a "moot point'' when the athletes
withdrew from the Olympics, IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies said.

However, "we had material which we think could have led to a
sanction,'' said Francois Carrard, a legal adviser to the IOC's
disciplinary commission.

Kenteris, the reigning 200-meter Olympic champion, is the
country's most celebrated athlete and was Greece's best hope for
gold in track at the Athens Games. He was considered a leading
candidate to light the Olympic cauldron during the opening
ceremony, but a Greek windsurfing champion got the honor instead.

The scandal overshadowed the Games' Opening Ceremony and shamed
a nation in one of its most eagerly awaited moments.

"I declared all the facts of my case which state that I am
innocent,'' Kenteris said. "I was never informed that I had to
attend a doping test at the Olympic Village.''

Thanou was the 100-meter silver medalist in Sydney four years
ago.

"The people who are accusing me are the ones who stood by me
for photos after my victories; others don't even know me,'' she
said.

"It's a very hard thing for an athlete to withdraw from the
Olympic Games, especially when they're in your homeland.''

Both sprinters spent about an hour behind closed doors and
emerged to a mob of reporters and television cameras. Neither
runner showed signs of injury from the reported motorcycle crash.

The IOC commission has been looking into why the two athletes
missed a drug test in the Olympic village last Thursday. A few
hours later, they were taken to a hospital with cuts and bruises
after they said their motorcycle skidded on a road. The police are
investigating.

The commission twice postponed hearings while the sprinters were
in the hospital, giving them a chance to defend themselves in
person.

After referring the case to the IAAF, the IOC said it would
investigate the sprinters and the coach again if they wanted to
compete in future Olympics.

Under IAAF rules, athletes can be suspended for two years if
they miss three drug tests in 18 months. The Greek runners are
being investigated by the IOC for two no-shows since July 23, and
the IAAF is looking into a third possible case involving Kenteris
in Tel Aviv last month, Ljungqvist said. Tsekos could also face
IAAF sanctions, he added.

The Greek Olympic Committee suspended the athletes and Tsekos on
Saturday, pending a final decision by the IOC.

Afterward, the coach blamed the media for the athletes'
decision.

"You have made what was a simple procedural issue, in my
opinion, into a very serious issue, without there being a reason,''
he told reporters. "This has harmed Greeks, this has harmed
Greece, this has harmed sports.''