BEIJING (Reuters) - Greece’s defending Olympic women’s 400 meters hurdles champion Fani Halkia has failed a drugs test, two Greek Olympic Committee officials said on Sunday hours before she was due to start competing in Beijing.
“Halkia tested positive for drugs,” one official told Reuters on condition of anonymity, confirming one of the biggest doping cases since the start of the August 8-24 Olympics.
The test was taken around August 10 when Halkiae was in Japan with the rest of Greece’s track and field team to prepare for the Games, he said, without giving further details. Athletics at the Games began only on Friday, a week after the opening ceremony.
Halkia denied she had taken performance enhancing drugs.
“I can’t believe it ... The first thing I thought of doing was to give all the nutritional supplements I have consumed, my vitamins, for testing,” Halkia told Greek reporters in Beijing.
The 29-year-old Halkia was a surprise winner in the 400 meters hurdles at the 2004 Athens Olympics but has rarely raced since then.
The first round of the women’s 400 meters hurdles is scheduled for Sunday evening, with the final on Aug 20.
The Greek Olympic Committee said in a brief statement an athlete had been suspended after a first sample had tested positive.
It did not name the athlete but said the person had left the Olympic Village pending the results of tests on a second sample.
The reputation of Greek sport was seriously damaged on the eve of the Athens Olympics when two medals hopes, sprinters Costas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou, missed a drugs test and withdrew amid a whirlwind of negative publicity.
Thanou, a 100 meters silver medalist in Sydney in 2000, had been barred from competing in Beijing because of her involvement in the Athens doping scandal, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said a week ago.
A long list of Greek athletes have failed tests over the past few months, including 11 weightlifters, a swimmer and a rower.
One of them, sprinter Tassos Gousis, was sent home from the training camp in Japan after he failed a Greek doping agency test days before he was due to compete.
If Halkia’s second sample is positive, the IOC will call an executive board meeting before announcing any action that could include her being banned from the Games and facing more sanctions through the International Association of Athletics Federations.
On Friday, the IOC said there would be far fewer positive drugs tests in Beijing than initially expected as officials were catching up with cheats.
The IOC had said previously it expected some 30-40 positive cases out of a planned 4,500 tests, the most conducted at an Olympics.
In Athens four years ago, there were a total of 26 cases of positive tests or other anti-doping rule violations such as refusal to provide a sample or missed drugs controls from some 3,300 tests.
But more intensive pre-Games testing by international sports federations, national Olympic committees and the World Anti-Doping Agency had yielded results this time, said the IOC.
Before Friday, only three athletes had tested positive out of about 2,200 tests after six days of competition, it said.
The Greek Olympic Committee, alarmed by the number of positive cases, had pledged before the Games to test every team member at least twice to avoid more embarrassment.
Additional reporting by Renee Maltezou in Athens, writing by Emma Graham-Harrison, editing by Ralph Gowling