IAAF investigates letter suggesting Chinese state-sanctioned doping

Wang Junxia
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BEIJING (AP) — The IAAF is investigating the authenticity of a two-decade-old letter published in Chinese media that suggests state-sanctioned doping in the 1990s and casts doubt on the longstanding world records set by Wang Junxia in the women’s 3000m and 10,000m.

Wang’s records could be annulled if the former Olympic and world champion has admitted to doping before setting the marks in 1993, the International Association of Athletics Federations said Friday.

Chinese website Tencent reports that Wang wrote a letter, signed by nine other members of coach Ma Junren‘s training program, in 1995 to journalist Zhao Yu allegedly revealing that athletes were forced to take banned substances and that Ma injected athletes.

“It’s all true that Coach Ma had beaten, verbally abused and mistreated us for years,” said the letter, dated March 28, 1995. “It’s also true that he had coaxed or forced us into using large quantities of banned drugs.

“His crimes must be revealed because we don’t want to see the same thing to happen to the next generation. Such inhumane tortures have brought us to the brink of a complete collapse.”

The IAAF issued a statement Friday saying it became aware of the allegations after being contacted by Chinese media. The track and field organization has asked the Chinese Athletics Association to assist with an investigation to verify if the letter — which is written in Chinese and which Zhao provided to Tencent this week — is genuine.

“If an athlete has admitted that, at some time prior to achieving a world record, he had used or taken advantage of a substance or technique prohibited at that time, then, subject to the advice of the medical and anti-doping commission, such record will not continue to be regarded as a world record by the IAAF,” the statement said.

A woman who answered the call at the Chinese Athletics Association said she had no knowledge of the case.

The scandal resurfaced this month in China, when its social media began heated discussions on doping following a recently published chapter about Ma’s track team, which was known collectively as “Ma’s Army.”

The chapter had been banned for years but was printed in 2014 when publishing authorities believed the Chinese public would be able to accept the scandal, Zhao told the Chinese media.

Ma and his team were considered national heroes for winning medals and setting records at world events, which was then considered a paramount national pride not to be questioned.

In the chapter, Zhao wrote that the distance runners under Ma were deeply troubled by the use of the performance-enhancing drugs but were too afraid to speak up because national honor was at stake. Zhao wrote that the practice began before 1990 and that Ma used the drugs extensively on the athletes after 1991.

Wang clocked 29 minutes, 31.78 seconds at China’s National Games in September 1993, shattering the 10,000m mark by 42 seconds. No runner has come within 22 seconds of her time since.

Wang’s record in the 3000m is 8:06.11, also set at the 1993 National Games. Wang won gold in the 10,000m at the 1993 World Championships and in the 5000m at the 1996 Athens Olympics.

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Kelly Cheng, Sara Hughes, beach volleyball’s new sensation, win World Tour Finals

Kelly Cheng, Sara Hughes
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In just a few months since reuniting, Kelly Cheng and Sara Hughes have become not just the best women’s beach volleyball team in the U.S., but also, arguably, the world.

Cheng and Hughes, former partners who got back together for a 2024 Olympic run, won the World Tour Finals for the biggest title for a U.S. pair since April Ross and Alix Klineman took gold in Tokyo.

The 27-year-old Californians swept reigning world champions Duda and Ana Patricia of Brazil 21-18, 21-16 in Sunday’s final in Doha.

Cheng and Hughes have entered four tournaments since reuniting last fall and won all of them — once on the domestic AVP tour and now three international events.

They are rolling into the start of the 2024 Olympic qualifying window next week. It’s likely that the top two U.S. women’s pairs across international events over the course of the next 18 months qualify for the Paris Games.

Cheng and Hughes were previously NCAA champion teammates at USC, then the most promising, young U.S. pro team before splitting in 2018. Cheng made the Tokyo Olympics with Sarah Sponcil (lost in the round of 16), while Hughes’ Tokyo bid flamed out when partner Summer Ross suffered a back injury in 2019.

“It was a lot of the unknown and being young and kind of immature and listening to maybe outside forces and not really knowing how to deal with things as well,” Hughes said in October of their past breakup. “We’ve pretty much moved past that in our relationship. Moving forward with one another, we’re completely different players, and we’re a lot more mature. It feels like the right time. The past is past. We’re just moving forward.”

Cheng and Hughes have taken over from April Ross and Klineman as the top U.S. team. After winning Olympic gold, Klineman underwent shoulder surgery in January 2022 and last week announced she is pregnant and may return from childbirth for a “last-second” 2024 Olympic qualifying bid.

April Ross, a 40-year-old with an Olympic medal of every color, last competed in March, then withdrew before June’s world championships, where she was entered with Emily Day, with an unspecified injury. She has not announced if or when she plans to return to competition.

The U.S. earned at least one beach volleyball medal at every Olympics that the sport has been on the program (since 1996), and a men’s or women’s gold at all but one Olympics. Eighteen months out from the Paris Games, Cheng and Hughes are the best hope to keep the podium streak going.

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Germany opens bobsled worlds with double gold; Kaillie Humphries gets silver

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Germans Laura Nolte and Johannes Lochner dethroned the reigning Olympic and world champions to open the world bobsled championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland, this weekend.

Nolte, the Olympic two-woman champion driver, won the four-run monobob by four tenths of a second over American Kaillie Humphries, who won the first world title in the event in 2021 and the first Olympic title in the event in 2022. Another German, Lisa Buckwitz, took bronze.

In the two-man, Lochner became the first driver to beat countryman Francesco Friedrich in an Olympic or world championships event since 2016, ending Friedrich’s record 12-event streak at global championships between two-man and four-man.

Friedrich, defeated by 49 hundredths, saw his streak of seven consecutive world two-man titles also snapped.

Lochner, 32, won his first outright global title after seven Olympic or world silvers, plus a shared four-man gold with Friedrich in 2017.

Swiss Michael Vogt drove to bronze, one hundredth behind Friedrich. Geoff Gadbois and Martin Christofferson filled the top American sled in 18th.

Americans Steven Holcomb and Steven Langton were the last non-Germans to win a world two-man title in 2012.

Bobsled worlds finish next weekend with the two-woman and four-man events.

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