Last week, Chinese journalist Zhao Yu spilled the beans after long holding scandalous information on systematic doping of Chinese athletes in the nineties. In 1995, the journalist had received a letter signed by top Chinese athletes, who admitted that banned substances were deliberately administered to them for performance enhancement. The journalist claimed that 10 of China’s Olympic champions and world record holders were part of a state-sponsored doping program. Among them was Wang Junxia, who holds world records in women’s 3000 and 10000m. Wang retired from active competition in 1997 and was inducted into the IAAF Hall of Fame in 2012. The shocking revelation has caused turmoil in international sports community. Reacting to reports in the media, International Association of Athletics Federations, IAAF has issued a statement which said it was investigating the matter and making attempts to verify the letter’s content with the help of Chinese Athletics Association.
In 1995, Wang Junxia and 9 other top athletes wrote a letter that had information on prevalence of programmed doping of China’s athletes by coach Ma Junren. This letter was addressed to Zhao Yu, a Chinese journalist, who held it with him for 21 years but posted it online 5 days ago. The letter reveals that coach Ma Junren forced the athletes to take large quantities of illegal drugs for a number of years. If proved true, the repercussions will erase the world record marks of celebrated female athlete Wang Junxia and also strip her of the Olympic medals won in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. In 1997, Zhao Yu wrote a book titled; “Revealing the Secrets of Ma’s Army” and tried to include the doping allegations but editorial problems arose and the contents were deleted. The abrupt publication of the letter in Tencent Sports is occupying time on China Central Television and the entire Chinese state media is reporting it.
As per the letter, Ma Junren encouraged Wang and her teammates to take the pills orally and if they refused, Ma would personally inject them with drugs. The International Association of Athletics Federations has issued a statement, as per which IAAF was investigating the claims. IAAF has confirmed the existence of the letter but the international body would like to verify the letter for its authenticity. IAAF is seeking the help of Chinese Athletics Association for examining the real truth.
Wang Junxia is the one athlete, who could be seriously affected if she is proved guilty. As per IAAF Competition Rule 263.3 (e) note (ii), “If anyone makes an admission of guilt, the IAAF can take action. If an athlete has admitted that, at some time prior to achieving a world record, he or she had used or taken advantage of a substance or technique prohibited at that time, then, subject to the advice of the Medical and Anti-Doping Commission, such a record will not continue to be regarded as a world record by the IAAF.” After the publication of the letter, the media has not succeeded in talking to Wang or anyone from the Chinese Athletics Association. Ma Juren has also refused to speak on the subject.
Wang attained global prominence in Stuttgart’s 1993 World Athletics Championships, where she won the gold medal in 10,000 meters. Some weeks later on September 8, 1993, Wang set the 10000m world record of 29:31.78 at Beijing’s Chinese National Games. On September 11, 1993, Wang also claimed 3000m world record in 8:06.11. Later in the same year, Wang became the World Cup Marathon Champion.
Ma and his athletes were famously named as “Ma’s Family Army” by the press. It was in 1995 that Wang revolted against him and led a walkout amid differences with Ma. This was the time that Wang could have released the letter to the journalist. Ma was fired in 2000, when six Chinese athletes failed the drug tests during the Olympic trials. Ma was reportedly subjecting his wards to a rigorous training regime and administered tonics, including turtle’s blood.
If Wang is disqualified at this stage, she will lose all her records. She would also lose the 5000m Gold and 10000m Silver that she won at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. The 10000m world record could go to Ethiopia’s Meselech Melkamu, who did the distance in a much slower time of 29:53.80 in 2009. As for Wang’s Gold and silver at Atlanta in 5000m, Japan’s fourth placed Michiko Shimizu could get the bronze in 5000m, 20 years later, while Italian Roberta Brunet and second-placed Kenyan Pauline Konga would improve to silver and gold respectively. Wang’s silver in 10000m may go to Ethiopian Gete Wami and another Ethiopian Deratu Tulu could move up from fourth place to take the bronze. More than losing medals and obliteration of world records, it will be Wang’s reputation that will take the biggest hit.