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September 7, 2000
China arrives under cloudAndrew Browne
Their heads held high despite a doping scandal, members of the Chinese Olympic squad arrived in Sydney on Wednesday seeking to turn the embarrassment into a public relations victory.
Nine archers, 22 shooters and four triathletes were the first to arrive after China stunned the Games by announcing that 27 of its athletes had been axed from the national team, some because of "suspicious" drug test results.
Asked about those left behind, head shooting coach Sun Shengwei said: "I think it's good".
"Everything is good," he said.
Although Beijing has released few details about the drugs tests, the decision to drop so many athletes just days before the Olympics appeared to confirm suspicions that cheating remains a serious problem at the top levels of Chinese sport.
But supporters of the Chinese team said the harsh move underlined the commitment of Chinese sports authorities to stamping out doping, and would give China the moral high ground in the war on performance-enhancing drugs.
"This is definitely not an embarrassment," said Joseph Wong, Honorary Chairman of the Australia-China Sports Friendship Association.
"It shows that China has higher testing standards than required," he said.
"China should be congratulated because they are willing to weaken their team to show they have a drug free Olympic games."
There have been suggestions among some Australian sports officials that China, worried that a drugs scandal in Sydney might derail its bid for the 2008 Olympics, could have been panicked into excessive action, dumping athletes who may have been innocent merely as a precaution.
Chinese journalists in Sydney were hurt and angry at the coverage of the drug busts, saying their team was being unfairly smeared.
"What country does not use drugs?" asked one reporter with a prominent state media organisation.
"People pick on China all the time."
China said it had dropped 14 track and field athletes, four swimmers, seven rowers and two canoeists.
Among them were six of the seven members of "Ma's Family Army" of long-distance women runners who had been training under controversial coach Ma Junren at high altitude on the Tibetan plateau.
International Olympic Committee President Juan Antonio Samaranch has also sought to put a positive spin on the Chinese action.
"I am very pleased, very happy," was his early reaction to news of the withdrawals, which followed an IOC decision to begin blood tests for erythropoietin (EPO), which boosts oxygen-carrying red blood cells.
"The object is to have clean games, no? It's good for the image of sport," Samaranch said.
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