Athletics doping scandal 2015

World records of Chinese runners in doubt amid doping scandal

IAAF, the global athletics body, launches probe after letter details regime of state-sponsored illegal drug use in the early 1990s with the spotlight on ‘Ma’s Army’

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 February, 2016, 9:22pm
UPDATED : Friday, 05 February, 2016, 11:13pm

The records of 10 Chinese runners are under a cloud after a letter surfaced detailing a regime of state-sponsored doping in the early 1990s – a time when China’s “Ma’s Army”, under coach Ma Junren, dominated women’s world middle-distance races.

Two world records are still held by superstar runner and International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) Hall of Fame inductee Wang Junxia.

We must disclose these criminal behaviours because we don’t want the same things [to] happen to the next generation
1995 letter signed by top Chinese athletes written to journalist Zhao Yu

But a host of other titles and former world records were won by other signatories, which could lead to a shake-up in world rankings if the letter is verified.

The IAAF – the sport’s governing body – has launched a probe and asked the Chinese Athletics Association (CAA) for assistance after inquiries from the South China Morning Post.

READ MORE: Forced state-sponsored doping revealed by China athletes who now risk loss of world records, titles and medals

The probe seeks to verify the letter’s signatories, and as they have admitted to using illegal drugs prior to a race they face penalties, including being stripped of titles.

Attempts to contact the CAA went unanswered on Friday, Agence France-Presse reported, as China moved into its Lunar New Year holidays.

Signatories to the letter are Ma Ningning, Wang Yuan, Lu Ou, Wang Xiaoxia, Zhang Linli, Liu Li, Lu Yi, Liu Dong, Wang Junxia and Zhang Lirong.

Between them, the signatories hold the top four fastest times as recorded by the IAAF in outdoor women’s 3000-metre running events, and equal sixth, ninth, 11th, and more.

Disqualification could mean Kenyan Hellen Onsando Obiri could move from fifth place to take the crown.

Wang’s record time in the 3,000 metres has so far been untouchable at 8:06.11, more than 14 seconds ahead of Obiri’s 8:20.68.

In the 10,000 metres, Wang’s 1993 record of 29:31.78 is still 22 seconds ahead of Ethiopia’s Meselech Melkamu.

Absent from the signatories is Qu Yunxia whose 1993 world record time of 3:50.46 for the women’s 1,500 metres stood until last year, when Ethiopian Genzebe Dibaba beat it by .39 of a second.

READ MORE: Highly prized ‘caterpillar fungus’ declared a danger to health by China’s food and drug administration

The signatories mainly recorded their fastest times in 1993.

Coach Ma put his runners’ success down to high altitude training, elixers of turtle blood, ground seahorse and deer horn, and bans on dating and long hair.

He has denied allegations the team used performance enhancing drugs, as Wang also has.

Wang has not made any comment on her Weibo social media account, but denied the use of drugs in 2004.

But their version of events runs counter to the 1995 letter written to Chinese journalist Zhao Yu, which had been concealed until 2014, and made public on Wednesday via Tencent Media.

In the letter, the runners say they were deliberately injected with “large doses of illegal drugs” in a programme of regular doping, though it did not say which drugs were given.

“It is absolutely true that Ma forced us to take large doses of illegal drugs,” Sina cited the letter to Zhao as saying.

“We were sad when we revealed this to you, and seriously worried that might impair China’s reputation, as well as it might devalue the gold medals we won,” the letter said.

“But we must disclose these criminal behaviours because we don’t want the same things [to] happen to the next generation.”