Sprinters cleared of BALCO links

The two Greek sprinters at the center of the Athens Olympics doping controversy and their former coach have been cleared of links to BALCO, a US-based laboratory that made performance-boosting drugs for athletes, their lawyers said yesterday. Greek prosecutors shelved the case after examining evidence sent from the district attorney of northern California, lawyers for Olympic medalists Costas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou and their former coach Christos Tzekos said. «The district attorney sent all evidence on the activity of the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative (BALCO), its chairman Victor Conte and chemist Patrick Arnold related to Greek athletes and coaches,» lawyer Nikos Kollias told a news conference. «Greek prosecutors… decided that the evidence does not substantiate prosecution, let alone a trial.» Formerly coach to Greece’s top sprinters, Tzekos is under investigation in Greece for allegedly importing, possessing and trading banned sports substances. Greek media have reported that Tzekos received performance-boosting drugs from BALCO’s Patrick Arnold, and that the proof lies in e-mails between the two. Tzekos insisted yesterday he only knew Arnold as a supplier of nutritional supplements, and denied receiving illegal substances from him. US federal officials began investigating BALCO in 2003, after the US Anti-Doping Agency received an anonymous tip about a previously unknown drug – later identified as the synthetic steroid THG. On July 15, 2005, Conte pleaded guilty to illegal steroid distribution and money laundering to avoid an embarrassing trial. Arnold was also convicted. Greek sprinters Kenteris and Thanou caused one of the biggest doping scandals of the 2004 Olympics after missing tests at the Olympic Village on the eve of the Games, and were provisionally banned from competition by the ruling body of athletics IAAF at the time. They are now on trial in Greece for perjury after claiming to have suffered a mysterious motorcycle accident after missing the tests, spending several days in hospital and out of reach by Olympic doping testers. The case has already been deferred twice, and is now scheduled to be heard in June. (AFP)