ATHENS, July 26 (Reuters) - Greek weightlifting great Pyrros Dimas expressed shock on Thursday at two controversial exits that rocked the country’s Olympic preparations on the eve of the London Games.
World indoor high jump champion Dimitris Chondrokoukis left after testing positive for anabolic steroid Stanozolol, the same one that Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson used before the 1988 Seoul Games.
On Wednesday, the team expelled triple-jumper Paraskevi Papachristou for tweeting a remark on African immigrants that was slammed as racist.
“I’m in a state of disbelief,” triple Olympic champion Dimas told Reuters in an interview.
“The mood among the team is extremely dark,” added the 40-year-old, who is president of the country’s weightlifting federation and also last month won a seat in parliament for the country’s co-ruling Socialist PASOK party.
Greek sport has been tainted by several doping cases in recent years and Dimas took charge of the weightlifting federation after a 2008 doping scandal involving 11 weightlifters who tested positive for banned substances.
He has since worked hard to stamp out doping and said he was proud that no cases had been reported in Greek weightlifting on his watch.
“Greek athletics has experienced too many doping cases in recent years and we simply can’t take any more,” he said, adding he would do his best to help his weightlifters get over Thursday’s shock.
“I am confident that as a team we can get over this shock quickly and win medals for the Greek people — we owe it to them.”
Dimas, who won three World Championship titles, said he did not expect either Chondrokoukis or Papachristou to be involved in such scandals.
“I knew them as serious, hard-working athletes, very polite and always respecting the rules,” he said.
Chondrokoukis, 24, was one of Greece’s best medal hopes in track and field and earlier this year won the World Indoor Championships in Istanbul with a personal best of 2.33 metres. His personal best outdoors is 2.32.
Papachristou told Reuters she was sleepless, bitter about her exclusion from the Olympic Games and felt the punishment was excessive, but intended to accept it and move on.
Dimas chided her for being careless: “You need to be very careful and I think it is a very harsh lesson for her... when you are a public figure and representing your country in any capacity you cannot make comments”.
The two athletes have stirred controversy in Greece but nowhere near the scandal caused by former sprinting stars Kostas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou, who missed their doping test and were subsequently expelled from the Athens 2004 Olympics.
“2004 cast a much bigger shadow because the Games were being held in Greece then... the shock was huge,” said Dimas. (Editing by Alan Baldwin)