Greek sprinters appeal perjury sentence

ATHENS, Greece -- Greek sprinters Costas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou were sentenced to a suspended 31-month jail term Tuesday, meaning they are unlikely to serve prison time for being found guilty of faking a motorcycle accident on the eve of the 2004 Athens Olympics.

Kenteris and Thanou were not present in court, but their lawyers immediately appealed the sentences.

Olympic medalists at the 2000 Sydney Games, Kenteris and Thanou claimed they were involved in a motorcycle accident after missing a doping test on the eve of the 2004 Games, causing a major scandal for the host nation.

"The court finds that this accident never occurred," presiding judge Dimitris Lefkos said Tuesday, while reading out the verdict.

The runners' coach, Christos Tzekos, was sentenced to 33 months in jail. Seven state hospital doctors who purportedly treated the athletes and two witnesses to the alleged crash were handed sentences of between six and 15 months.

Kenteris and Thanou spent several days in an Athens hospital
claiming they were injured in the crash. Under pressure from the
International Olympic Committee, they withdrew from the Games. Both subsequently were suspended by the IAAF.

"We are pleased that justice has finally been done and that this faked 'accident' has been revealed for what it was," International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams told The Associated Press. "The judge made clear what we knew all along: that this accident never happened."

Tzekos also was found guilty of distributing banned substances. All of the sentences were suspended.

"This ruling is a legal stain on the [justice] system which I am certain will be wiped clean at the appeal," Kenteris' lawyer, Michalis Dimitrakopoulos, said.

Earlier, in a courtroom outburst, he said his client had been denied leniency routinely awarded to dangerous criminals.

"It is simply unbelievable to refuse any mitigating circumstances to Olympic champions. That is granted to drug dealers and felons," he said. "And now we have this decision for two athletes as if they have not offered anything to the country. It is disgraceful and I am ashamed for my country."

The trial by a panel of three judges began on Jan. 12 following at least eight postponements over several years. Thanou testified on March 28, protesting her innocence and insisting that the accident had occurred, while Kenteris never appeared.

Tzekos was present Tuesday and left before the sentences were announced without making a statement.

"We believe justice was not served or delivered," Maria Kevga, lead lawyer for Tzekos and Thanou, said. "Today, unfortunately, justice showed itself to be blind to the truth ... During this entire procedure, there were no evidence heard that proved that the athletes of Mr. Tzekos faked an accident."

Greek legal experts said it was unlikely any of the defendants would go to prison, because none has a prior conviction and nor
are they considered a danger to the public. If an appeals court upholds the convictions, the defendants likely will end up paying a fine, the experts said.

Thanou, now 36, won silver at the Sydney Games in the 100 meters. She served a two-year suspension after the Athens Olympics, but was barred from participating in the 2008 Beijing Games under an IOC rule excluding athletes considered guilty of improper conduct or of bringing the Olympics into disrepute.

In several interviews, she has denied the claims made against her, noting that she has never tested positive for an illegal substance.

Kenteris, now 37, won gold in the 200 meters at the Sydney Games. He did not return to competition after his two-year suspension.