President’s praise for fair play

President Costis Stephanopoulos, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and other political leaders yesterday saluted Greece’s Olympic team, which brought home the most medals since the revival of the modern Games in Athens in 1896. The joyous occasion, which included a reception in the grounds of the Presidential Palace, however, was tempered by the knowledge that Greece is struggling to come to terms with the fact that the country’s two top sprinters pulled out of the Games after missing a doping test on the eve of the opening ceremony and the country’s first medal winner, weightlifter Leonidas Sampanis, was stripped of his bronze medal after testing positive for an abnormally high level of testosterone. A judicial inquiry is being held into the circumstances in which Costas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou missed a doping test on Aug. 12. The team won six gold, six silver and four bronze medals. «You are the best team we have ever had, the best Olympic team,» Stephanopoulos said in a short address to the athletes. He thanked the past and present government officials for this, Athens 2004 organizers, the «wonderful volunteers,» the builders who built the facilities and the artists who prepared the opening and closing ceremonies for the successful Games. Focusing on the athletes, Stephanopoulos urged them to avoid the dangers of doping. «You are the flower of our youth,» he said. «Do not destroy your bodies and your souls and do not give in to temptation. This is something that depends on you, first of all. Legislation can only help in a secondary way.» Stephanopoulos, an avid sports fan, who in his career as a politician was noted for fairness and humility, and had proclaimed the Kenteris-Thanou affair a «disgrace» for Greece, also expressed his displeasure at the fact that fans in the Olympic Stadium had held up the start of the 200m final, in which Kenteris would have been defending his Olympic title had he qualified, with chants of «Kenteris» and boos. «Applause must be a display of ethos by sports fans,» the president said. «We do not need to jeer and disturb others, this does not boost our national egotism, on the contrary, it humbles us,» he stressed. And he called for sporting behavior to be introduced as a school subject. «Both the athletes and the spectators need (to learn) sporting ethics,» he said. Karamanlis, former PM Costas Simitis, PASOK leader George Papandreou and Athens 2004 Organizing Committee head Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki were also present at the reception. The Olympic team’s chief of mission, Michalis Papadoyiannakis, noted that of the 440 athletes in the Olympic team, barring 10 who did not take part for various reasons, 32 were among the top three in their events and 170 placed between fourth and eighth. Meanwhile, commenting on proposals (including a New York Times editorial) for Greece to provide a permanent home for the Olympics, government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos said that the late statesman Constantine Karamanlis had proposed this long ago. «But conditions must mature, as this is a long-term plan,» he added.

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