When high profile Greek athletes Costas
Kenteris and his training partner Katerina Thanou, became elusive targets for
pre-Games dope testers, subsequent events provided what is bound to be the
biggest story of the Olympics. The
following is Reuters own account of how it came to scoop the world’s media
gathered in Athens, when it broke what is already the biggest Olympic doping
scandal since Canadian sprinter, Ben Johnson’s disgrace in 1988.

The Reuters Olympic team in Athens scored
the first major beat of the Games 24 hours before the opening ceremony with a
multimedia scoop on the biggest Olympic doping scandal to break since sprinter
Ben Johnson was disqualified 16 years ago in Seoul after winning the 100
metres.

Reuters was more than an hour ahead of
rival agencies with the newsbreak and stayed ahead as the story developed
through the night and the next day. Our RVN was the only television agency with
pictures until the next day, earning a beat of more than 11 hours.

First indications of the unfolding drama
came when a Greek sports website claimed on Thursday evening that Greece’s
sporting hero Costas Kenteris, the reigning Olympic 200 metres champion, and
his training partner Katerina Thanou, silver medallist in the women’s 100
metres in Sydney four years ago, had both been kicked out of the Games for
missing a doping test.

The sensational rumour quickly took over
Greek television and radio bulletins as the news rocked a host country which
had expected their sprinters to star in an Olympics seen as a vehicle for an
outpouring of national pride.

The rumour turned out to be not entirely
true as Reuters Olympic specialist Ossian Shine and Karolos Grohmann, Athens
bureau expert on Olympic preparations, were able to establish after rushing
over to the International Olympic Committee’s hotel. Shine’s IOC contacts and
Grohmann’s local organising committee sources tipped them off with
non-attributable comments which enabled Reuters to piece together the truth —
that the two sprinters had indeed missed an IOC dope test that evening and,
though they had not been barred from the Games, they faced potential sanctions
which could mean them missing their moment of glory. Kenteris had been widely
expected to have the supreme honour of lighting the Olympic flame at the
opening ceremony the next day.

The Reuters urgent was unsighted on any
other agency for more than an hour. The Associated Press, with a team of 230 at
the Games, were unsighted for more than two hours as Reuters reports flooded on
to news and sports websites.

Reuters pictures and television teams,
working in close liaison with the text team at the Main Press Centre, mobilised
quickly, sending crews to the IOC hotel and the Olympic village where the athletes
were holed up and later to the hospital where they spent the night. Reuters
photographers were the only ones present to snap stern-faced IOC president
Jacques Rogge as he arrived back at the hotel to deal with the crisis.

Shine got an early tip from an IOC source
that Rogge was setting up a disciplinary panel and summoning the two athletes
to appear at a hearing the next day. The Reuters alert was quoted by Greek
television and radio. With no other confirmation available on the developing
story, Greek TV news began to cite Reuters, translating our file live on air.
The file covered all aspects of the story from the core news, through profiles
of the athletes to reaction pieces on the impact on the Games and Greece.

With Reuters Athens-based sports reporter
Daniel Howden, correspondent Ellie Tzortzi and local bureau staff working the
phones through the evening and night and a team of international news staff and
sports specialists handling the story in the MPC, Reuters was again ahead with
the next bizarre twist when the two athletes were involved in a mysterious
midnight motorbike accident and taken to hospital.

The Games’ main rights-holders NBC and the
BBC both quoted Reuters as did many leading newspapers on Friday, including the
Los Angeles Times and British dailies, the Guardian, Independent and Telegraph,
all of whom have teams of their own correspondents at the Games which is
covered by some 25,000 media representatives. Unsolicited praise for Reuters
coverage was sent to sports editor Paul Radford by other media organisations.
Mike Osborne, sports editor of Australia’s AAP sent the following message:

“Paul, just a word of congrats for
Reuters’ coverage of the Kenteris scandal on Aug 12 and into the morning of Aug
13. I thought Reuters were well ahead of the game from the start. About 75 per
cent of the copy AAP moved on the Olympic scandal was your agency’s. You might
pass on my thanks to your troops. Well done. Mike”

Mike Hurst of Australia’s News Ltd
newspaper group wrote to chief sports reporter John Mehaffey:

“Just a congratulatory note to you and
your Reuters staff on the Greek sprinters yarn. You blew our News Ltd team out
of the water on this story and there’s no doubt in my mind it will remain as
the biggest story of these Games. We have 18 people working in our News team in
Athens (inc 13 journalists) and we never even got a whiff of this story. I
reckon it’s just a case of you having picked the right reporters and giving
them enough room to run with their instincts. Anyway, bloody good effort. You
wrecked our night with that Kenteris scoop. We had everyone chasing their tails
and no-one, not even the Greek language speakers on our staff, knew where to
start to even verify what you put out. Seriously mate, brilliant, brilliant
work.”

RVN was spectacularly successful with its
Eurovision injects, opening at 2102 on Thursday night against a first from APTN
at 0830 the next day. In all, RVN had a total of seven injects compared with
just two by APTN as the story unfolded.

The impact of the story on Greece and
Greeks would be hard to exaggerate. As it became clear among volunteer staff at
the Main Press Centre that their idols would almost certainly miss the Games,
many began to weep.

One of the biggest compliments to Reuters
came first thing on Friday morning when Kevan Gosper, chairman of the IOC’s
press commission and one of the IOC’s most influential members, paid a call on
Radford at the Reuters office. “I find myself in the unusual position of
having to ask you what’s going on in my own organisation,” he said.

Reuters Olympics coverage can be visited
here: www.reuters.com/olympics

Peter Fray

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