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|September 6, 2000||
Ma's army faces axe
Chinese sports officials confirmed on Wednesday they would drop some members of the Olympics team, including some of the "Ma Family Army" of women distance runners, but refused to confirm drugs were the problem.
They declined to say how many would be thrown off the team or name any of them, but one said reports from the Olympics city of Sydney that 40 Chinese athletes and officials would be cut were exaggerated.
"First of all, it isn't a drug problem and it isn't 40 athletes. The number of athletes concerned and determining the nature of the case are not accurate," an official of the China Rowing Association told Reuters.
However, International Olympic Committee medical official Patrick Schamasch said in Sydney the Chinese Rowing Federation had told the IOC several rowers had been withdrawn after tests for endurance-boosting erythropoietin (EPO).
An official of the China Athletics Association confirmed some of the women distance runners trained by mercurial coach Ma Junren -- who abruptly abandoned his high-altitude camp on Sunday -- were among those to be dropped.
"Some had problems in their blood tests," he said.
But the official said that did not mean they had been found guilty of using drugs by a stringent testing programme China has carried out in a determined effort to end an embarrassing chain of positive tests at international events.
The official, who asked not to be identified, said the final Chinese team list for the Sydney Olympics, which start on September 15, would be announced on Thursday.
"You will find out who will go to Sydney and who won't", he said.
Officials at China's drug testing centre declined comment.
Ma, bidding for Chinese golds in the 5,000 and 10,000 metres events in Sydney, threw China's sports world into consternation by abandoning his training camp on the Tibetan plateau last Sunday.
He has given no explanation for his change of plans.
Local sports reporters covering the "Ma Family Army" said they had been trying without success to get official comment on the outcome of a series of tests.
But they said they had been told that the problems with blood tests on Ma's athletes were not necessarily related to drugs.
The original "Ma Family Army" of runners from the northeastern province of Liaoning shocked the world in 1993 by sweeping all three medals in the 5,000 metres and taking gold and silver in the 10,000 metres at the Stuttgart world championships.
Just a month later, they shattered three world records at the Chinese national championships, with Wang Junxia shaving an astonishing 42 seconds off the 10,000 metres world record and 16.5 seconds off the 3,000 metres mark.
Ma vigorously denied allegations his runners were fuelled by banned drugs and attributed their stunning times to high altitude training and traditional tonics of turtle's blood and caterpillar fungus.
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