Greek sprinters on trial for Athens Games bike crash

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ATHENS, Sep 21 (Reuters) Greek sprinters Costas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou stand trial on Monday over an alleged motorcycle crash linked to the extraordinary doping affair that cast a cloud over the 2004 Athens Olympics.

Kenteris, a 200 metres gold medallist at the Sydney 2000 Olympics and Thanou, who won a 100 metres silver at the same Games, missed a dope test inside the athletes village and later claimed to have crashed while heading back there.

Their lawyer Michalis Dimitrakopoulos said it was not yet clear whether his clients would turn up. There have been several postponements of this case.

''I do not know yet if they will be present,'' he told Reuters today. The pair could face a suspended sentence of up to five years, although that is unlikely.

The trial will rekindle their once-loyal fans' anger over what became the most sensational doping affair since Ben Johnson lost his 100 metres gold medal at the 1988 Seoul Games after testing positive for drugs.

The missed test hours before the Games' opening ceremony left Greeks stunned as they prepared for their athletes' races.

The alleged crash landed the sprinters in hospital for four days, avoiding any further drugs tests but dashing their medals hopes.

Instead, Kenteris and Thanou dominated media headlines for the first week of the Olympics, taking the spotlight off what was otherwise a successful Games after years of delays by organisers.

LATE-NIGHT CRASH An investigation found discrepancies in the sprinters' testimony, medical reports regarding their alleged injuries following the late-night crash near their coach's home and alleged witness statements.

The athletes were charged with providing authorities with false statements. One witness was charged with perjury.

They were never found guilty of positive tests and were acquitted after a Greek athletics federation probe in 2005. But former coach Christos Tzekos was given a four-year suspension for his involvement in the affair.

The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) appealed against the verdict, taking the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

The two sides settled out of court in mid-2006 and Kenteris and Thanou subsequently admitted only to anti-doping rule violations, essentially serving out their unofficial two-year suspension.

Kenteris has not said whether he will compete again, while Thanou returned to international competition this year and hopes to qualify for the Beijing 2008 Games.

REUTERS PDS BD2150

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