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Tuesday, September 12, 2000
Nearly all of Chinese athletes failed drug tests

 SYDNEY (AP) -- The biggest drug scandal in Chinese sports just got bigger.

 After a week of saying that injuries, illness and poor performance were involved in some cases, Chinese officials said Tuesday that nearly all of the 27 athletes cut from the Olympic team failed drug tests.

 He Huixian, the Chinese Olympic Committee's spokeswoman, said "the overwhelming majority" had suspicious results in blood tests for the performance-enhancing drug EPO.

 Among them were six runners trained by famed coach Ma Junren, whose record-smashing "Ma's Army" stunned the world in the 1990s. The spokeswoman said Ma was responsible for his runners' failed tests -- "that is without doubt."

 At the same time, He also said that China is not the only offender.

 "EPO has polluted the world sports stage. Many countries know that they have athletes using EPO, including America, Australia, Germany, England, France -- they all know," she said in an interview. "It's a global problem."

 Chinese sports have been riddled with drug scandals in recent years, but none involving so many people in one series of tests. In addition to the athletes, the Chinese cut 13 coaches, including Ma, from their squad.

 Ma and his runners were among the most conspicuous absentees in the squad that is expected to produce 16 gold medals for China, matching its total in Atlanta four years ago. China cut its squad for Sydney from 311 to 284 competitors.

 Its biggest medal hopes are in diving, weightlifting, table tennis and badminton.

 By leaving home those who failed drug tests, Chinese sports officials may have improved Beijing's bid for the 2008 Olympics and avoided a repeat of embarrassing doping scandals at the 1994 Asian Games and 1998 swimming world championships.

 "I'm very pleased," IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch said at the time of the drug-related withdrawals. "I'm very happy. This is very good news. It shows the new system for detecting doping substances will work very well. ... The objective is to have clean games."

 Of Ma's athletes, only 10,000-metre runner Li Ji remained. Spared any cuts or embarrassment was China's weightlifting team, which is expected to win at least five gold medals, including four women's titles.
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