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Wada to investigate if Sonia O’Sullivan was denied gold by dopers

Wada are taking the matter seriously having reviewed documentary aired on German TV

Sonia O’Sullivan on her way to finishing second in the 1500m at the 1993 World Championships. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

They say the truth always comes out in the end, but whether the whole truth about the doping of Chinese athletes could yet see Sonia O’Sullivan win two belated World Championship titles remains to be seen.

For now the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) has designated its Intelligence and Investigations unit to examine the latest evidence to suggest O’Sullivan was almost certainly denied two gold medals due to the widespread doping of Chinese athletes. Even after nearly 25 years they would still count dearly.

Wada are clearly taking the matter seriously having reviewed the documentary aired on German TV station ARD over the weekend, in which former Chinese team doctor Xue Yinxian claimed all medals won by the Chinese athletes in the 1980s and 1990s should be handed back, such was the systematic level of doping within the country at the time.

ARD previously helped reveal the systematic doping in Russia which resulted in their athletes being banned from the 2016 Rio Olympics and several medals being redistributed: that could yet happen in O’Sullivan’s case, or at least see the results involving Chinese athletes erased from the books.

O’Sullivan was twice denied gold at those 1993 World Championships in Stuttgart: she run out of the medals by three Chinese women in the 3,000 metres, finishing fourth, before winning silver over 1,500m, again behind another Chinese athlete.

The 79-year-old Xue, who last month arrived in Germany seeking political asylum, said all Chinese medals were “showered in doping”  and in fact extended beyond national teams: “In the 1980s and 90s, Chinese athletes on the national teams made extensive use of doping substances,” she says.  “Gold, silver and bronze. All international medals should be withdrawn.”

According to Wada, “if action is warranted and feasible under the Wada code, the necessary and appropriate steps will be taken”. 

It added: “(Wada) has seen the documentary by German broadcaster ARD alleging systematic doping in China during the 1980s and 1990s; and, questioning whether such a system may have prevailed beyond these decades.

“As a first step, the Agency has asked its independent Intelligence and Investigations (I&I) team to initiate an investigative process in order to collect and analyze available information in coordination with external partners.”

Better known as “Ma’s Army”, the Chinese runners in 1993 trained under Ma Junren, and although never caught for doping, Chinese state media also reported earlier last year that all nine of Ma’s Army were forced to take “large doses of illegal drugs over the years”.

One of the most prominent of those runners, Wang Junxia, who also won gold over 5,000m at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, is claimed to have previously detailed the regime of state sponsored doping in a letter, penned in 1995, but which remain unpublished for 19 years.

Speaking about the latest revelations, O’Sullivan said: “It is not surprising but astonishing that it has taken this long to produce some concrete evidence. Where there is smoke, there is fire and the truth never goes away.

“Once again I feel the athletes that have cheated down through the years have been looked after much greater than the clean athletes who continue to work hard and achieve credible results that they can all stand up and be proud of, yet so often lose out on that moment of glory which can never be given back.

“The governors of sport have a lot to answer too. Time to lift up the rug and clean out everything that’s been swept under.”

According to Xue, for those two decades the success of the country’s top athletes was founded on fraud. She first made a similar statement in 2012, after which she claims she never felt safe in her home city of Beijing, and was harassed by the government.

She also claims doping controls in China at that time only had one purpose: to make sure athletes could travel to competitions without being caught. If the drugs were no longer in their bodies, they communicated this with a code: “Grandma is home.”

Xue also added that she was against doping, and that this cost her job as chief physician to the national teams:  “If anyone refused doping, they were thrown out of the team.”

According to Wada rules, Xue’s claims, if backed up by further evidence, could carry retrospective penalties such as disqualification of results, the imposition of a period of ineligibility, mandatory publication of the violation and financial sanctions.

ARD reporters tried to contact the Chinese Olympic Committee and China’s Ministry of Sports for a response to the claims, but never received a reply, according to the broadcaster.

China was one of nine countries to be banned from international weightlifting for one year earlier this month, after a series of drugs tests came back positive.