Greek athletes on trial: Kenteris and Thanou acquitted

Kostas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou
Image caption Kostas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou were found guilty in May at the end of a long-running trial

An Athens appeals court has acquitted Greek sprinters Costas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou of faking a motorcycle crash in 2004.

A panel of three judges ruled there was a lack of evidence to prove the pair staged the crash to avoid a doping test on the eve of the Athens Olympics.

The two had been found guilty of perjury in May.

A 33-month suspended sentence against coach Christos Tzekos for possessing banned substances was reduced.

Neither athlete was present for the court verdict, but Mr Kenteris's lawyer Michalis Dimitrakopoulos said his client's "feeling of emotion is beyond words", Associated Press news agency reported.

Mr Tzekos said he had spoken to Ms Thanou, who was "very, very, very happy. For sure, she's had a difficult time all these years."

Doctors acquitted

The now-retired sprinters had vowed to appeal against the 31-month suspended sentences handed down to them when they were found guilty of perjury at the culmination of their long-postponed trial in May.

On Monday, a prosecutor recommended the pair be acquitted and at Tuesday's hearing, the judges said they could not determine beyond reasonable doubt whether the crash had indeed taken place.

They also acquitted seven doctors who treated the runners and two people who said they witnessed the crash, reported AP news agency.

Tzekos's conviction for possessing and trading banned substances was upheld, but his sentence reduced to 12 months.

"We demonstrated in court that there was no evidence to support that the accident was staged," said Mr Dimitrakopoulos outside the courtroom, according to AP.

"I am proud as a Greek, because the decision demonstrates that the [athletes] were totally clean."

Mr Kenteris, 37, won gold in the 200m at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. At the same Games Ms Thanou, 36, won silver in the 100m.

They were forced to withdraw from the 2004 Olympics after missing the doping test, but have always protested their innocence.

The incident cast a huge shadow across the Games for the host country, correspondents say.

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