Olympic drama far from over

Months after the end of the Athens Olympics, the drama has yet to subside. Yesterday, prosecutors charged Greek weightlifter Leonidas Sampanis with taking banned substances during the Olympics and, moreover, filed blanket charges against the Athens doping laboratory for allegedly destroying a sample that belonged to American gold medal cyclist Tyler Hamilton. Sampanis was stripped of his bronze medal in the 62-kilogram category after a drug test showed he had an abnormally high level of testosterone. His expulsion from the Games was a bitter blow for the host nation still reeling from the doping scandal surrounding sprint stars Costas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou. They, too, have been charged with criminal offenses. Sampanis, silver medalist at the 1996 Atlanta Games and 2000 Sydney Games, had pleaded his innocence after being exposed. «I want to declare to the Greek people that I swear to God, on my two little angels, my children, that I never took any such substance,» Sampanis told reporters after an International Olympic Committee hearing. «I want you to believe me, I don’t want you to desert me,» he added. The IOC’s disciplinary commission was unmoved and the executive board expelled him from the Games. Eleven weightlifters were kicked out of the Olympics for doping offenses. Prosecutors Spyros Mouzakitis and Athina Theodoropoulou, who have been the lead prosecutors in a number of doping cases related to the Athens Olympics, also charged «unknown perpetrators» for allegedly destroying a backup sample of Hamilton’s blood. After winning his Olympic event, Hamilton took a doping test and an A-sample and B-sample were kept by the lab. A test of the A-sample showed evidence of a blood transfusion but the case against Hamilton was dropped after his B-sample was frozen, leaving too few red blood cells to analyze. Hamilton tested positive again at a race in September, just after the Olympics, with both samples confirming the result. He has questioned the reliability of the testing system for blood doping, which boosts endurance by raising the level of oxygen-carrying red blood cells. The two Greek prosecutors have also been involved in the case against Greek sprinters Costas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou. The two were charged last month with avoiding a drug test and faking a motorcycle accident hours later. On December 17, Kenteris and Thanou submitted written explanations to the International Association of Athletics Federations detailing their reasons for missing drug tests on the eve of the Athens Olympics. The IAAF said its doping review board would decide by the end of December whether the athletes’ explanations were acceptable. If their defense is rejected, the runners will be provisionally suspended pending a hearing in Greece. They could eventually face a ban of up to two years. In all, a total of 25 athletes, including three gold medalists, were excluded from the Athens Games for doping offenses. (AP, AFP)