Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Drug Controversy Continues to Trouble the Waters Series: ATLANTA 1996

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Drug Controversy Continues to Trouble the Waters Series: ATLANTA 1996

Article excerpt

American swimmer Jenny Thompson says she likes the high-canopied ceiling at the Olympic Aquatic Center at Georgia Tech University. "It just looks good," she says, explaining that the size of the starting blocks, the depth of the pool, and lane markers can all influence performance.

The problem for ceiling-admirers like Thompson is that something much darker hangs over the open-air Tech pool in this week's swimming competition, namely a cloud of suspicion. Swimming is currently caught in a crisis of trust, brought on, but not limited to the Chinese women.

They were suspected of taking banned drugs at the '92 Barcelona Olympics, when their emergence reminded people of how East German women set off alarm bells with their rise to power in 1976. No positive drug tests occurred in '92, but at the 1994 Asian Games, seven Chinese failed drug tests and received bans of varying lengths. There have been waves ever since.

Last summer, China was banned from the Pan Pacific Championships, a major international meet held in Atlanta. Australia suggested that the International Olympic Committee ban China from the Centennial Games, but the IOC rejected the idea.

Then, shortly before the Olympics began, the World Swimming Coaches' Association set up an organization intent on pressuring swimming's world governing body, FINA, to take a tougher stand on the drug issue. Of concern are substances medically viewed as aids to building strength and stamina during training. FINA, the acronymn used by the Federation Internationale de Natation Amateur, responded last week by announcing that any country guilty of four doping offenses within a 12-month period would be handed a two-year suspension. Had these rules been in effect earlier, China would not have swimmers in Atlanta.

American Janet Evans, an Opening Ceremony torchbearer who is competing in her third Olympics, says she favors stiff measures. She says that when she won three gold medals at age 17 in 1988, she was too naive to be intimidated by East Germans suspected of using so-called performance-enhancing drugs. Revelations have since confirmed these suspicions. …

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