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Report: Chinese National Games -- October 16, 1997

Early last month, Swimming World received a confidential report from one of its sources in China saying that the doping situation in China is, "if anything, worse than ever." The report warned to expect unbelievable performances at China's National Games in October. It is at these Games that the government awards money to athletes and coaches based on their, and their teams', performances.

Sadly, that prediction has come true, and the world is now faced once again with what appears to knowledgeable observers to be the widespread doping of Chinese swimmers.

Chen Yan broke the women's 400m IM world record when she clocked 4:34.79 at the Chinese National Games on Monday.

Chen, 16, from the northeastern province of Liaoning, bettered the mark of 4:36.10 set by Petra Schneider of the former East Germany at the World Championships in Guayaquil, Ecuador, in August 1982.

Phillip Whitten, the Editor of Swimming World, said angrily: "What we have here is an unmistakable pattern. I could certainly see a handful of Chinese swimmers legitimately bursting into the top ranks of swimming. What is not plausible, however, is overwhelming numbers of Chinese women swimmers completing swamping and dominating the top rankings in the world. Again, we see only the women doing outstanding times. By and large, the Chinese men are well off the top men's performances in the rest of the world. There is one--and only one--explanation for this phenomenon: systematic doping."

Whitten, first brought China's doping of its swimmers to the world's attention in the early 90s and was roundly criticized by Chinese Olympic and swimming officials. His criticisms were vindicated when seven Chinese swimmers tested positive for the same steroid less than a week after the Chinese women dominated the 1994 World Championships in Rome. All seven were banned from competition for two years. Some of those banned swimmers are competing again--and winning at the Chinese National Games.

"It is ironic," Whitten said," that this latest manifestation of China's cynical doping of its athletes comes precisely at the time that scores of former East German coaches and physicians are going on trial in Germany for administering steroids and other drugs to their teenage charges in the 1970s and '80s." East Germany dominated world swimming for almost 20 years, until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Many of the former East German swimmers have experienced serious medical problems as a result of their drug regimen, others are sterile, while still others have given birth to babies with serious birth defects.

Referring to the former East Germany, Whitten said, "What we have in Chinese swimming today, is history repeating itself--both as tragedy and farce. The coaches and officials who are administering steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs drugs to these young athletes are cynically corrupting the integrity of the sport of swimming. At the same time, I believe they should be charged with criminal child abuse."