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Friday, July 14, 2000

Is positive a positive?

Doping ban could help Malar, Limpert but ...


  Canada's chances for an Olympic medal in the pool improved yesterday with the announcement that Chinese swimmer Wu Yanyan, the world-record holder in the 200 individual medley, has tested positive for banned drugs.

 Wu, the world champion in the event, was caught with a stimulant in her system and has been tossed from the Chinese Olympic squad. That means Canadian stars Joanne Malar and Marianne Limpert, ranked fourth and sixth in the world in the 200 IM, are now medal contenders.

 Still, the Canadian swimmers weren't pleased with the news about Wu. Limpert, who finished second to Irish steroid cheat Michelle Smith at the 1996 Atlanta Games in the 200 IM, believes that the Chinese may be offering up Wu as a sacrificial lamb.

 The Chinese have been an amateur-sport pariah, especially in swimming, after reports of systematic drug use in their system surfaced in recent years.

 "She hasn't been swimming that well lately, which makes you wonder whether they just felt she was expendable," Limpert said from her Vancouver home.

 Limpert suggested the Chinese may use Wu's suspension, the result of a domestic test, as a public-relations ploy, a chance to show the world they're serious in the fight against doping.

 "Is (this positive) a game? That's my initial guess," Limpert said.

 Malar had mixed emotions.

 "It's good that someone who's cheating was found positive and she is eliminated from the Olympics," the Hamilton swimmer said. "But she's the world-record holder (and) it makes me sad because who's to say that she wasn't cheating when she set the record? And they won't take away her records. Now, the world records are tainted. That's the frustrating part."

 Canadian team head coach Dave Johnson, reached at a competition in Los Angeles, said he was suspicious about the announcement. The fact Chinese swimmers have been absent in terms of high-level performances recently led the Calgary-based coach to believe that perhaps the Chinese were playing possum -- "up to the same crap they've been up to forever" -- and that the positive test was a means to deflect worldwide skepticism from its program.

 "It's a sad commentary on Chinese swimming," he said. "(And) it really basically tells us that the world records (set by Chinese swimmers) are cheap world records."

 Seven Chinese swimmers, including two world champions, tested positive for steroids at the Asian Games in Hiroshima, Japan, in 1994. Before the 1998 worlds in Perth, Australia, Chinese swimmer Yuan Yuan was caught with 13 vials of a banned substance in her luggage.