Drug suspicions denied

Leading Greek sporting officials and a sprint coach suspected of administering banned substances to world-class Greek athletes yesterday denied that there was any truth behind UK press reports implicating Greek athletes in a US doping scandal. The recent release of documents from a federal grand jury hearing in San Francisco, USA, investigating the activities of a Californian nutritionist, Victor Conte, includes an e-mail sent by Conte to an unidentified coach, warning that a test has been developed for a previously undetectable drug. Conte, the founder and owner of the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative (Balco), concludes in the e-mail: «We might also want to somehow get this information to the coach for the Greek athletes, XXXX and XXXX, so nobody tests positive.» The American legal authorities have deleted the names of the athletes in the e-mail, sent in August 2002. Over the weekend, two British newspapers, the Observer and the Independent, published detailed reports about suspicions involving trainer Christos Tzekos and his two world-class sprinters, Costas Kenteris, the Olympic and European 200-meter champion, as well as a former world champion, and Katerina Thanou, the European 100-meter champion and an Olympic silver medalist. Yesterday, Tzekos described the inclusion of his name in the reports as an «immoral and cowardly attack,» while threatening to take legal action against other «groundless reports and slanderous remarks.» Tzekos was defended by Vassilis Sevastis, president of SEGAS, Greece’s track and field federation, who described the UK reports as a tasteless repeat of anti-Greek propaganda and an insult to Greek athletics. Deputy Culture Minister Giorgos Lianis, who heads the government’s sports portfolio, said the behind-the-scenes actions of Greek athletes were kept under close surveillance. «Our great athletes undergo constant checks and have never tested positive,» said Lianis. «The USA, the leading force in athletics, is being tested with unforeseeable developments for drug use. The alarm has sounded for all. We, however, as the home nation of the Olympic Games, and as host nation, have taken action,» he added. The investigations into Balco’s activities include alleged dealings with American and British athletes. Tzekos has been suspected of administering banned substances in the past. Last year, SEGAS ordered him to explain the whereabouts of Kenteris and Thanou after all three were spotted in Qatar when the trainer told the Greek federation they were training in Crete. Regulations set by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) oblige athletes to provide information of their movements to enable impromptu testing. The IAAF has said that it will consider taking retrospective action, which may include reassigning titles and medals, if the Balco trial produces evidence.