Chinese swimmers run to escape the country’s doping past

Since a string of doping cases in the 1990s and a four-year suspension for three-time Olympic champion Sun Yang, Chinese swimmers have struggled to escape the shadow of suspicion – and fear it will bring them scrutiny. more in-depth in Tokyo, former Olympians mentioned.

The ban on Sun, the pride of Chinese swimming, is food for those who have long harbored suspicions about the country’s program due to its uneven doping record.

China’s swimming program has seen its reputation tarnished by a series of scandals, including when a swimmer was caught with 13 vials of human growth hormone at Sydney Airport ahead of the 1998 World Championships in Perth.

Beijing has since pledged to eliminate drug cheaters, and the Chinese Swimming Association (CSA) has consistently declared its steadfast opposition to the use of banned substances.

The CSA did not respond to requests for comment for this article.

Scandals have often left Chinese swimmers wondering about their performance.

No sooner had teenager Ye Shiwen stepped out of the London swimming pool after setting a world record for winning gold at the 2012 Olympics than the allegations began to swirl.

Only 16 at the time, Ye – who has never tested positive for doping – was forced to push back questions and innuendo of cheating, and accused her critics of being biased against Chinese athletes.

“My results come from hard work and training and I would never use prohibited drugs,” she told reporters in London. “The Chinese people have clean hands.”

She did not respond to requests for comment for this article.

Multiple Olympic and world champion Sun did not test positive for a banned substance, but the Court of Arbitration for Sport suspended him in June after he and members of his entourage were found to have smashed vials containing blood samples taken during an out-of-competition test. in September 2018.

Sun, who also served a three-month suspension for a doping offense in 2014, has questioned the credentials and identities of the testers and has consistently claimed his innocence. He will be free to swim at the next Paris Olympics in 2024.

Sun’s attorney Zhang Qihui said the swimmer was the victim of a “political stance in an international struggle,” according to a statement posted on his Weibo page on social media.

“It is a pity for China and even for the world that such a talented athlete has fallen into the hands of an international organization controlled by some people,” he said.

Zhang did not specify which organization he was referring to.

Sun and Zhang did not respond to requests for comment.

A former Olympic swimmer who retired after the Rio Games and did not want to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue said it was difficult to change perceptions on the country’s swimming program due to the scandals .

“The Chinese are definitely vilified. For athletes from other countries, people do not accuse the whole country of doping, ”he said, adding that doping is extremely widespread in many different countries.

In interviews, five former Olympians said Chinese swimmers preparing for the Tokyo Olympics will face increased public scrutiny due to Sun’s ban.

They also said Sun had been portrayed in a less favorable light over his doping allegations compared to athletes in similar positions in countries like Australia and the United States.

Some swimmers such as Britain’s Adam Peaty had requested a lifetime suspension from Sun, while Australia’s Mack Horton refused to share a podium with him after the Chinese swimmer won the 400-meter freestyle at the 2019 world championships. .

Former Olympic champion Matt Biondi said he didn’t believe there was anti-Chinese sentiment in the sport but that the culture was very different and more formal.

“I don’t think the Chinese are helping each other,” said the American, now director of the newly formed International Swimmers Alliance.

“They remain very isolated and so it kind of reflects the opinion of the outside world. I think basically people feel like they tried to beat the system with drugs and so it’s not right. “

Chinese netizens have mostly rallied around Sun since his ban, hailing the three-time Olympic champion and 11-time world champion for all his accomplishments as the 29-year-old pledged to persevere in his career.

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