Seizure confirms suspicions say coaches


Britain's Swimming chief fears the world championships could be thrown into chaos after Australian customs officers confiscated what appeared to be a banned substance from a Chinese swimmer yesterday.

Performance director Deryk Snelling, who coached Ireland's Michelle de Bruin prior to the 1988 and 1992 Olympics, said he was "amazed" at the discovery of the hormones. "I could hardly believe it when I heard the news," said Snelling. "It has caused quite a stir here among all the coaches and team managers and it will only detract from the performances of all the swimmers.

"But drug-taking has got to be stamped out and it just goes to show the decision taken earlier this week not to lower the ban for using anabolic steroids from four to two years was correct.

"It does suggest that the suspicions raised by the performances of the Chinese in Shanghai recently had some grounds."

Snelling believes China could withdraw all their competitors before the events get under way at Perth's Challenge Stadium on Monday morning.

And he warned that if they did decide to compete, any Chinese victory or world record would inevitably leave a cloud hanging over the eighth World Championships.

"People are saying that if a Chinese swimmer wins, they should be snubbed and everyone should turn their backs when the medal is awarded," added Snelling. "It's getting quite silly in some ways.

"But it is going to be hard for them to stand up there on the rostrum after what has happened knowing everyone is going to be accusing them of taking drugs."

"This time they've been caught with their hands in the cookie jar," Australia's head coach and outspoken critic of Chinese swimming, Don Talbot said.

Australian International Olympic Committee delegate Phil Coles said it was too early to tell whether the customs discovery confirmed suspicions of drug use by Chinese swimmers.

"If the substance is proven to be a banned ingredient, it's a very sad day for swimming, it's a very sad day for athletes competing with the Chinese team . . . this may well be the tip of the iceberg," Coles said. World body FINA refused to comment on the issue yesterday. "FINA will not make any comments on allegations based on suspicions until the analysis of the substance seized is carried out and made known," a press release said.

Shi Tianshu, leader of the Chinese team, had declared his athletes "clean" when he arrived in Perth this week, claiming that his country's swimming officials had conducted more than 650 tests in the past year.

He added that FINA had carried out more than 100 out-of-competition tests on Chinese swimmers in the past two months and none had returned a positive result.

But the discovery comes after some of the world's all-time great swimmers had spoken out against FINA over their handling of drug-testing and enforcement.

Even before this latest incident, Legendary American Mark Spitz, winner of seven gold medals at the 1972 Olympics, said FINA needed to catalogue all known performance-enhancing drugs and enforce penalties if someone is caught.

"We can send people to the moon, we can do all these technological miracles, why can't we figure out what type of drugs are popular and test for them?" said Spitz.

The Chinese swimming team have outstayed their welcome in Australia and should be put on the next flight home following the discovery of suspected banned drugs, Australian coach Forbes Carlile said yesterday.

Carlile called for the Chinese to be expelled from the championship if tests prove the substance is the hormone drug.

"When you're caught with that amount of drugs on your person and you're part of a team, the whole team is implicated," said Carlile, a member of the World Swimming Coaches' Association anti-doping committee.

"I don't see how they can be allowed to stay. If they swim now, I'd be surprised. They should be put on a plane and sent home. I can't imagine that there's any Australian that will not say the Chinese have outstayed their welcome."

Referring to the seizure, Spitz pointed out that growth hormone drugs were not directly related to enhancing swimming performance. "To bring the hormone in now and take it, I don't think is something that is going to benefit any of the athletes."

Spitz and Murray Rose, another swimming great, earlier called for leadership from the international swimming federation to sort out the sport's corrosive drug problem once and for all.

Spitz and four-time Olympic gold medallist Rose made their plea during a Olympic legends promotion in Perth yesterday.

Spitz described world body FINA's handling of German coach Winfried Leopold as "outrageous" and said he was "embarrassed by FINA's lackadaisical approach" to handling swimming's drug war.

"To reprimand somebody from East Germany for something that took place 15 years ago is just outrageous . . . We had the chance to find out about the drugs that were taken 15 years ago, but we didn't do anything about it. Now all of a sudden, we're trying to be a hero about something that was done 15 years ago.

"I am embarrassed by the way we have approached the problem, too lackadaisical. I think part of the reason is that nobody has the courage to acknowledge the fact that there's a problem.

"The big problem in the sport of swimming is that the ruling body FINA should get their act together and test for all known drugs," he said. "Why can't we figure out what drugs are popular and test for them and set criteria and a set of rules that are stringent enough?

"And if we do set up guidelines, then let's have a group of people that has below-the-belt capabilities to commit themselves, rather than going about it in such a haphazard way, foolishly if I may say so."

Rose, who won three golds for Australia at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics and the 400 metres freestyle gold at Rome in 1960, said the main question was to establish the right parameters to find out who were the cheats.

"We haven't had the leadership from FINA, or any of the international governing bodies, or the IOC to establish those credentials," said Rose.

"Once we have that done and we know of the manufacture of all these substances and have something that can detect them, anybody's who's taking it, we'll know about it.

"And we're going to test for it, before, during and after (competition), so we know where everybody is, so there's no issue about it. You either come dirty, or you come clean.

"In this case, we know that most athletes have come clean (to Perth), but we're not sure and that's the question.

"The Chinese, like every other nation, are here doing the best they possibly can, what we need to do is to ensure that we're all competing on an even playing field."