Forced state-sponsored doping revealed by China athletes who now risk loss of world records, titles and medals
A regime of state-sponsored doping has been detailed in a letter from world record holding Chinese runner Wang Junxia and the squad of nine runners nicknamed Ma’s Army to a journalist, mainland media reports.
Wang revealed in 1995 that she and her teammates were forced to take “large doses of illegal drugs over the years”, according to a report that surfaced this week.
After inquiries from the South China Morning Post, the International Association of Athletics Federations launched a probe into Wang’s allegations.
The probe aims to verify the letter and, if proven to be from the runners, has consequences for their titles, medals and reputations.
The letter was penned two years after Wang set two world records in the 3,000 metres and 10,000 metres – marks that stand today.
She wrote about how the women on the team tried to avoid the state-run doping regime by quietly throwing away pills forced on them.
But she said coach Ma Junren would personally inject the drugs into his athletes, who became known as Ma’s Army.
The letter, signed by nine teammates and revealing their anguish, was sent to a journalist named Zhao Yu, but it remained unpublished for 19 years.
“We are humans, not animals,” said the team members in one passage.
“For many years, [he] forced us to take a large dose of illegal drugs. It was true,” they added in their letter to Zhao.
The letter was published on Tencent Sports.
“Our feelings are sorry and complex when exposing his (Ma’s) deeds,” the letter continued.
“We are also worried that we would harm our country’s fame and reduce the worth of the gold medals we have worked very hard to get.”
Wang was honoured with a place in the International Association of Athletics Federations’ Hall of Fame for her “notable” achievements in 1993, when she set records in a bouquet of championships held in Tianjin, Stuttgart and Beijing.
In Beijing, she took nearly 42 seconds off the 10,000m race record, achieving a time no runner has been able to beat in more than 20 years.
The name of the “illegal drug” was not revealed, and Wang does not appear on the Monaco-based athletics federation’s list of athletes currently banned for doping. She retired from athletics in 1997.
A spokesman for the IAAF said the organisation would seek to authenticate the letter.
“The IAAF’s first action must be to verify that the letter is genuine,” said spokesman Chris Turner. “In this respect, the IAAF has asked the Chinese Athletics Association to assist it in that process.”
According to IAAF competition rule 263.3, if an athlete makes an admission of guilt then the association can “take action”.
After advice from the Medical and Anti-Doping Commission, an internal IAAF body, the athletes could be stripped of their titles.
Further, according to World Anti-Doping Agency rules, Wang’s admission could carry penalties such as disqualification of results, the imposition of a period of ineligibility, mandatory publication of the violation and financial sanctions.
During the mid-90s and under Ma’s coaching, Chinese track and field athletes set dozens of world records.
Ma said his intense training regime in the Tibetan alps, a ban on long hair and dating, Chinese women’s perceived capacity for ‘eating bitterness’ and his exotic elixers of turtle blood and powdered seahorses given to his runners were behind the success, and has consistently denied the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
Wang also ruled out the use of drugs as in 2004.
But others believed in the simple answer that performance-enhancing drugs were at its heart.
Two-time US Olympian PattiSue Plumer told the Chicago Tribune in 1995 that she thought drugs were involved.
“They destroyed any chance of any female human breaking those records in the next 100 years,” Plumer said.
The 1994 Swimming World Championships in Rome were besieged with rumours that Chinese athletes were doping as records fell, and after the national women’s swimming team appeared with deep voices and built-up physiques.
According to a team doctor, Xue Yinxian, experimenting with human growth hormones and steroids was “rampant in the 1980s”, she told Fairfax Media in Australia in 2012.
It was not just rogue individuals but a team strategy, she said.