US Swimmers Feel 'Cheated' by China Doping Case

23 swimmers tested positive for banned drug before Tokyo Olympics but were not suspended
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 22, 2024 12:40 PM CDT
US Swimmers Feel 'Cheated' by China Doping Case
Yufei Zhang, of China, swims during a semifinal in the women's 100-meter butterfly at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Sunday, July 25, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan.   (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

The World Anti-Doping Agency—WADA—and Chinese authorities are strongly rejecting allegations that they covered up a case involving Chinese swimmers months before the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. Over the weekend, the New York Times and German broadcaster ARD reported that 23 Chinese swimmers tested positive for trimetazidine, a banned heart drug known as TMZ, seven months before the Olympics. A positive test for TMZ usually triggers a provisional suspension, but the athletes were not suspended and the positive tests were not disclosed to sports officials in other countries. Several of the athletes who tested positive won medals in Tokyo, including three golds, the Times reports. Some of them will be competing in the Paris Olympics. More:

  • The drug. TMZ, banned by WADA since 2014, is believed to help with stamina and endurance, CNN reports. Chinese authorities said the country's anti-doping agency determined that no violation had taken place because the positive tests were the result of "the ingestion of contaminated food by the relevant athletes without knowledge of the contaminated food."

  • The investigation. WADA said it accepted claims from Chinese authorities that only small amounts of TMZ were found and the positive tests were the result of contamination, NPR reports. "It was not possible for WADA scientists or investigators to conduct their enquiries on the ground in China given the extreme restrictions in place due to a COVID-related lockdown," the agency said in a statement. "WADA ultimately concluded that it was not in a position to disprove the possibility that contamination was the source of TMZ."
  • Anger from US authorities. In a statement, Travis Tygart, CEO of the US Anti-Doping Agency, said there had been a "blatant violation" of the rules and accused WADA of using "scare tactics" to silence critics. "When you blow away their rhetoric, the facts remain as have been reported: WADA failed to provisionally suspend the athletes, disqualify results, and publicly disclose the positives," he said. "These are egregious failures, even if you buy their story that this was contamination and a potent drug 'magically appeared' in a kitchen and led to 23 positive tests of elite Chinese swimmers.
  • Anger from athletes. Swimmers from countries that came behind China in Tokyo reacted to the news with anger and dismay. "We had to applaud China's efforts that day," Paige Madden, a member of the US 4x200 freestyle relay team that finished second to China, tells the New York Times. "Today, however, I feel that Team USA was cheated."
  • Allegations of double standards. In 2022, Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva tested positive for TMZ and also blamed contamination. She was banned for four years.
  • Statement from WADA. "The truth of this matter is that according to all available scientific evidence and intelligence, thoroughly gathered, assessed and tested by leading anti-doping experts, WADA had no basis to challenge the explanation of environmental contamination," WADA said in a statement. The agency slammed Tygart's remarks as "outrageous, completely false, and defamatory."
(More swimming stories.)

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