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Tuesday, January 13, 1998 Published at 11:20 GMT


Chinese struggle to keep their heads above water
image: [ Shan Ying: silver medal on Monday but barely kicking on Tuesday ]
Shan Ying: silver medal on Monday but barely kicking on Tuesday

Tuesday's dismal performance by China's women swimmers has fuelled speculation at the world championships in Perth that last week's drugs siezure by Australian Customs may be behind their mediocre times.

The authorities in Australia have now confirmed that suspected drugs, found on a top Chinese swimmer when she arrived for the current world championships there, were the banned substance human growth hormone.

Speaking at the championships in Perth, the Australian sports minister, Andrew Thomson, said the findings were established by government analysts.

The performance-enhancing product was found in the luggage of the Chinese breast-stroke swimmer Yuan Yuan.

[ image: Yuan: facing a four-year ban]
Yuan: facing a four-year ban
She and her coach were sent home and are now facing a four-year ban.

When China's Shan Ying won a bronze medal in the 100-metre freestyle on the opening night of the swim programme on Monday, she complained about the negative effects the drug controversy has had on the team.

On Tuesday, Shan flopped in the 200-metre freestyle, finishing a distant eighth and last in her heat. Her time of 2:09.11 was nearly 10 seconds outside her best, and she was only 32nd fastest of 44 swimmers.

At several times during her swim, she appeared not to be kicking.

"It's kind of interesting when 13 vials of human growth hormone are taken from them, all of a sudden they don't swim so well," said four-time Atlanta Olympic gold medallist Amy Van Dyken of the United States. "Seems funny to me."

China's poor performances did not stop with Shan. Wang Luna, ranked second in the world in the event, also failed to qualify for the final, finishing 10th overall.

Two Chinese swimmers also finished last in their heats of the 100-metre breaststroke.

The United States women's coach Gregg Troy said it was highly unusual to see an entire swimming team drop their times so drastically, having clocked world best performances three months ago.

"I think the Chinese have had a real rough week with everything that's happened to them," Troy said. "But by the same token, there's certainly something that's awful suspicious about their drop-off here. All I know is that it's a real unusual situation in the light of all the other happenings. It's certainly suspicious."

Last October Chinese women set two world records as well as best times for 1997 in 8 out of 13 individual events at their national games in Shanghai.

But with the exception of Zeng Qiliang, who became the first Chinese man to win a world championship swimming medal with silver on Monday night in the 100-metre breaststroke, Chinese swimmers have performed well outside their best.

Meanwhile in other events at the Perth championships, Olympic champion Claudia Poll of Costa Rica was fastest into the freestyle final, clocking 1:59.82 seconds. Kerstin Kielgass of Germany was second in 2:00.07 with Julia Greville finishing third in 2:00.13.

Other qualifying results:

  • Marcel Wouda of the Netherlands qualified fastest for the men's 400-metre individual medley in 4:17.91 ahead of Canadian Curtis Myden and world record holder American Tom Dolan.
  • In the 100-metre women's breaststroke, Samantha Riley of Australia led qualifiers with 1:08.58. Olympic champion Penny Heyns of South Africa was second with 1:08.66 while Hungarian teenager Agnes Kovacs, the European champion, was third with 1:08.69.
  • Australia's 4-x-200-metre men's relay team had the fastest qualifying time for the later final with the United States second and Germany third. Italy had the fifth fastest time but was disqualified for an incorrect first change.


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