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Friday, January 9, 1998 Published at 18:03 GMT


Go-ahead for Chinese swimmers
image: [ Chinese swimmers have had phenomenal success in recent years ]
Chinese swimmers have had phenomenal success in recent years

Swimming's governing body FINA has given China the go-ahead to compete in the world championships in Australia, ignoring calls for the team's expulsion.

China has recalled a one swimmer and her coach from the competition in Perth after customs officials seized an illegal performance-enhancing substance hidden in luggage.

Yuan Yuan was caught with 13 vials of a human growth hormone in one of her bags. She faces a four-year ban.

Her coach has admitted responsibility for packing the bags.

[ image: Yuan Yuan is led away by police]
Yuan Yuan is led away by police
The charge has cast a long shadow of suspicion over the Chinese team.

Swimmers from around the world say they will snub any Chinese medal winners and turn their backs on any who make it onto the podium for medal ceremonies.

China has long been under fire for suspected use of performance-enhancing drugs. Ms Yuan's withdrawal has prompted widespread calls for the entire Chinese team to be banned.

The team is now practising under police protection. The Australians have carried out tests on the rest of the team but the results are not yet known.

Ms was due to compete in the 200-metre breast stroke in Perth. She won a silver medal in the category at the last world championships in Rome in 1994.

Customs officers say the product was hidden in a flask labelled Norditropin, a brand name for Somatropin, which is a synthetic substance used as a substitute for naturally-produced growth hormones in the body.

[ image: The entire Chinese team is now under suspicion]
The entire Chinese team is now under suspicion
Known as the "drug of champions" because it is believed some of the top athletes use it, Somatropin has similar affects as anabolic steroids but is undetectable in urine tests.

The synthetic version was originally developed to combat stunted growth.

Both Somatropin, and another drug called Erythropoetin, are banned by the International Olympic Committee. But there is no internationally approved testing procedure.

Phil Coles, Australian delegate to the International Olympic Committee, said: "It's a very sad day for swimming. This may well be the tip of the iceberg."

Suspicions were first sparked by the stunning results of Chinese women swimmers at the Chinese National Games in Shanghai in October. Chinese women set two world records and a string of personal bests.

In the last world championships in Rome, China scooped 12 of the 16 women's titles, only to have seven swimmers, including two newly crowned world champions, test positive for steroids at the Asian Games a month later.

China has always denied systematic doping despite 23 positive steroid tests since 1990.


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