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September 7, 2000
Leaner but cleaner ChinaMatt Pottinger
China declared on Thursday that the dramatic axing of 27 athletes from its Olympic squad amid suspicions of doping produced a leaner but meaner team that should hold its own at the Sydney Games.
By weeding out suspected dope users, it has boosted the work ethic of remaining athletes, making up for the loss in numbers, said Tu Mingde, secretary general of the Chinese Olympic Committee.
"This affair will encourage our athletes to work harder," Tu said. "Although the number of athletes has been reduced, our team will become an elite squad."
Chinese sports officials announced on Wednesday they were dropping 27 athletes who had either turned up "suspicious" blood test results, or were sick or injured.
The list included several potential medallists, including six of the seven women distance runners known as the "Ma Familiy Army" -- so named for their tough-as-nails coach Ma Junren, who was also dumped from the Games.
Tu said on Wednesday that the reductions had damaged China's chances of retaining the fourth spot in the medals table it achieved at Atlanta and Barcelona.
But on Thursday he changed his tune, saying the cuts were not in events where China felt most competitive.
"The problem didn't emerge among athletes in sporting events where we hold an advantage. So, our aim to fight for the best results in the Olympics will not be affected," he declared.
China, a powerful sporting force and a nation brimming with avid sports fans, has published little commentary in the state-controlled press about the cuttbacks.
Most newspapers on Thursday carried an official Xinhua news agency item reporting "adjustments" in the national team based in part on suspicious test results -- a possible indication that there is more on Beijing's mind than just the Sydney Games.
Beijing may fear that a major doping scandal would harm its bid to host the Olympics in 2008, a major objective of the ruling Communist Party in its struggle for prestige from the international community and its own citizens.
Beijing is one of the five cities on shortlist for the 2008 Games along with Paris, Toronto, Osaka and Istanbul.
Praise from home and abroad
So far, it would appear they have little to fear.
International sports officials and coaches, from the United States to Australia and the Olympic movement supremo Juan Antonio Samaranch, have praised China for taking stringent steps to ensure their athletes play clean and fair.
Beijing residents also expressed relief that dope users had apparently been busted at home, rather than at the medals table in Sydney.
"The Olympics is a fair competition and if our country is taking anti-doping measures more seriously then that's great," said Ju Dongqi, a young office worker.
"If cases of doping come to light during the Olympics, then it would be even more embarrassing and a great loss to our country's prestige."
A statement from the Chinese Olympic Committee distributed in Sydney on Thursday said: "We are determined to work closely with the IOC and the relevamnt international sports federations to carry this prolonged, arduous and complicated fight to the end."
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