Greek sprinters appeal sentence for perjury
ATHENS, Greece -- Seven years after causing a scandal that shook the Athens Olympics, Greek sprinters Costas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou were convicted of perjury Tuesday for faking a motorcycle accident to cover up a missed doping test on the eve of the 2004 Games.
The runners were given suspended 31-month jail sentences -- meaning they are highly unlikely to serve any jail time.
Kenteris and Thanou, Olympic medalists at the 2000 Sydney Games, were not present in court but their lawyers immediately said they would appeal the sentences.
The pair claimed they were involved in a motorcycle accident after missing a doping test a day before the opening ceremony in Athens -- causing a major scandal for the host nation.
"The court finds that this accident never occurred," presiding judge Dimitris Lefkos said while reading out the verdict.
The athletes' coach, Christos Tzekos, was sentenced to 33 months in jail. Seven state hospital doctors who treated the athletes and two witnesses to the alleged crash were given sentences of between six and 15 months. All the sentences were suspended.
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 were subsequently 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.
"This ruling is a legal stain on the (justice) system which I am certain will be wiped clean at the appeal," said Michalis Dimitrakopoulos, Kenteris' lawyer.
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," Dimitrakopoulos 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. 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," said Maria Kevga, the lead lawyer for Tzekos and Thanou. "Today, unfortunately, justice showed itself to be blind to the truth. ... During this entire procedure, there was 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 they all have no prior convictions and are not considered a danger to the public. If an appeals court upholds the convictions, they are likely to pay a fine.
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.
AP Sports Writer Stephen Wilson in London contributed.
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press
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