ATHENS // Costas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou, the Greek sprinters, were acquitted by an Athens appeals court yesterday of faking a motorcycle crash after missing a doping test on the eve of the 2004 Athens Olympics.
In a case that has dragged through the courts for nearly seven years, a panel of three judges issued the unanimous decision a day after a prosecutor recommended the two be acquitted on grounds of reasonable doubt over the crash.
The two were found guilty of perjury in May over the scandal - a major embarrassment to the Olympic host nation - and given suspended 31-month jail sentences that they immediately appealed.
The appeals court upheld the conviction of the athletes' coach, Christos Tzekos, on charges of possession and storage of illegal substances, but acquitted him of a perjury charge relating to the motorcycle crash. The court reduced his initial sentence of 33 months in jail to 12 months, suspended for three years.
"This is a vindication that we have been talking about and fighting for, for seven years," said Maria Kevga, the lawyer for Thanou and Tzekos. "We always believed we would get it in court."
The judges also acquitted seven state hospital doctors who treated the runners and two people who said they witnessed the alleged accident. They had been given suspended sentences of between six and 15 months.
"We demonstrated in court that there was no evidence to support that the accident was staged," Michalis Dimitrakopoulos, Kenteris' lawyer, said outside the court. "I am proud as a Greek, because the decision demonstrates the [athletes] were totally clean."
Dimitrakopoulos said Kenteris was currently in the United States for personal reasons, and that he had spoken to him to notify him of the court decision.
"His feeling of emotion is beyond words," the lawyer said.
Thanou and Kenteris, both medallists at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and Greece's top contenders for Olympic track medals during the Athens Games, had been accused of staging the crash on August 12, 2004, hours after missing a doping test before the opening of the Olympics.
The two spent several days in an Athens hospital saying they had been injured in the crash. Under pressure from the International Olympic Committee, they withdrew from the Olympics, and both were later suspended by the IAAF.
Dimitrakopoulos said the trial demonstrated that the injuries Kenteris said he sustained in the crash were evident in X-rays and blood tests.