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Chinese Swimmers Stumble at Olympic Trials -- May 22, 2000

May 22, JINAN. CHINA'S swimming federation and Olympic Committee have been insisting for months that they have been cracking down on illegal performance-enhancing drugs. Judging by the results at the Chinese Olympic Trials, held in the grimy northern Chinese city of Jinan, those efforts have been bearing fruit.

The winning performances at the Chinese Trials were, by and large, solid, but far from spectacular. And nothing like the mind-boggling swims of 1993, '94 and '97 when Chinese swimming took several Great Leaps Forward--far beyond the realm of believability.

The best women's performance was turned in by 15-year-old Qi Hui, who skipped atop the water in the 200 meter breaststroke to record a national record 2:25.51, almost two seconds ahead of Luo Xuejuan, who reversed the order of finish by taking the 100 breast in a strong 1:08.87.

Veteran Liu Limin won the 100 fly in 59.86--a disappointing time for her after her stellar short course performances at the NCAAs in March. In the 200, Liu was out-touched by Liu Yin, 2:11.97 to 2:12.32. A third Liu--Xiaoxiao--was third.

World record-holder Wu Yanyan won the 200 IM in 2:14.02, a strong time but a far cry from her world record of 2:09.72 at the City Games in 1997 or her winning time of 2:10.88 at the World Championships in '98. Chen Yan, who swam the second fastest time (2:11.27) in history in '97, did not make finals.

Chen did final in the 400 I.M., the event in which she set the world record of 4:34.79 in 1997--breaking Petra Schneider's long-standing drug-aided mark--but her performance was less than notable. Chen, who also took the World Championship title in 4:36.66 in this event in 1998, could only manage a 4:51.32, good for fifth place.

The men's competition also saw some good performances, almost all by veteran swimmers. Fu Yong dipped under the two-minute mark in winning the 200 back in 1:59.93; Zhu Yi and Zeng Qiliang went mid-1:02s to place one-two in the 100 breaststroke; Ouyang Kunpeng took the 100 fly in 53.90 while triple-winner Xie Xufeng captured the 200 fly in 1:59.35. Xie also emerged victorious in both medleys, 2:03.32 and 4:20.11, both times edging Jin Hao.

While the winning times were solid, equally interesting was who failed to qualify and who didn't bother to show up. Le Jingyi, the 50 and 100 meter freestyler world record-holder, whose V-shaped torso, lightning fast starts and incredibly powerful stroke symbolized Chinese illegitimate dominance of the women's events, showed up looking far less physically intimidating. She also swam far slower. Le managed to qualify only in the 50 free, where she finished an ignominious sixth in 26.08.

Also missing from any final was Shan Ying, Le's heir- apparent who swam 24.77 for the 50 and 54.49 for the 100 in 1997, and almost as fast in '98.

Chen Yan, who recorded the second fastest 400 in history in 1997--4:05.00--and won the world championship in '98 in 4:06.72 with an awesome final 100--didn't make finals.

Others missing included backstrokers He Cihong,a world record 1:00.16 and 2:07+ in 1994; Zhen Yingjuan, 1:00.22 and 2:08.51 in '97; and 13-year-old Cheng Jiaru who swam 1:01.76 and 2:12.83 last year.

Summing up the meet, Chinese Swimming Association referee committee director Mu Xiangjie said: "It's all been pretty mediocre."