POSTED: August 2nd 2012
JOHN GOODBODY: Chinese drugs controversy is back
THE JOHN GOODBODY COLUMN / An authoritative and exclusive series from Sports Features Communications
August 2 - We have been here before. Many times. In the 1970s and 1980s, it was the East Germans, who were suspected of taking hormone drugs and when the Berlin Wall came down, the files were revealed. Their Olympic competitors, including many of their most successful swimmers, were confirmed as being part of a state doping system.
In the 1990s, there was the Irish swimmer, Michelle Smith, who was supposedly the female star of the 1996 Games having improved phenomenally after the age of 24. Two years later, she was banned after it was found that she had despoiled a urine sample in an out-of-competition test by adding alcohol.
In the same decade, many Chinese were found guilty of taking drugs. And, particularly significantly, in 1998, an Australian customs check of a bag belonging to a member of the Chinese team, attending the world swimming championships in Perth, uncovered huge quantities of human growth hormone, then undetectable.
Since then the issue of drugs in Chinese sport, particularly swimming, has become less prominent. This is largely because China were not making quite the impact in those sports, where doping can be especially helpful. No competitor from the host country had an adverse finding when Beijing hosted the 2008 Games.
However, in June this year, Li Zhesi, a member of the national team, who won the 4 x100 metres medley relay team at the 2011 world championships, was found positive for erythropoietin (epo), the drug which aids stamina.
And the big controversy of the London Olympics now surrounds the performance of Ye Shiwen, 16, who won the women’s 400 metres individual medley. She improved her personal best by more than five seconds as she broke the world record by a second. However, what amazed people was that she swam the last 50 metres freestyle leg faster than the Americans Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte had achieved in the men’s 400 metres individual medley the same evening.
John Leonard, the executive director of the U.S. Swimming Coaches Association, said that Ye’s final 100 metres was “disturbing” and “did not add up.” He added:”The history of our sport tells us that every time we see something ‘unbelievable’ it more often that not turned out to be some form of cheating that was involved, doping in most cases.., They all had excuses and explanations. It turned out they were lying.
He added:”I spoke to coaches around the venue and no one can remember seeing anything like this. No woman has ever split the men, let alone the two greatest all-rounders in the history of the sport.”
Inevitably, the Chinese reacted vehemently to the suspicions, with the swimmer herself issuing a translated statement saying:”I wouldn’t use any banned drugs...the Chinese team has always had a firm policy about anti-doping.”
But that was what the East Germans were saying for many years until the lie was nailed, although many later insisted that although they knew they were taking pills, they did not know they were taking hormone drugs. They just did what they were told by the coaches and scientists advising them.
Is Ye a similar case ? After all, many 16 year-old swimmers even in countries such as the United States and Australia, the two super-powers of the sport, tend to do what they are told by their coaches. If they are instructed to swim 10,000 metres in a day’s session, they swim 10,000 metres.
The jury is therefore out on Ye Shiwen’s performance and, by association, on other Chinese performances. And if there is no positive test on any Chinese competitor this week, the jury may remain out for some time to come.
** JOHN GOODBODY covered the 2008 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 11th successive Summer Games and is the author of the audio book A History of the Olympics, read by Barry Davies, the BBC commentator. He was Sports News Correspondent of The Times 1986-2007, for whom he received journalistic awards in all three decades on the paper, including Sports Reporter of The Year in 2001.
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