(Reuters) - Chinese doping officials say they were not trying to cover up Sun Yang’s positive test and that they held back news of his three-month suspension because they did not want to make any mistakes with “the most famous athlete in China”.
Sun, China’s most successful male swimmer, secretly served his ban during May and August after testing positive for the banned stimulant trimetazidine.
It was only on Monday that the China Anti-Doping Agency (CHINADA) revealed the 22-year-old world and Olympic champion had committed a doping offence.
“Sun is the most famous athlete in China and is known in the world, which means we need to handle his case very cautiously,” CHINADA deputy director Zhao Jian told the country’s official Xinhua news agency.
“This is huge bad news but we will not cover it up.
“We announce positive cases and test statistics in our quarterly reports just as WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) requires.”
CHINADA said Sun had been given a three-month penalty because he had been taking trimetazidine for years to treat an existing heart problem and was unaware that the stimulant had only been added be WADA’s banned list in January.
But the case is certain to arouse fresh suspicions about China’e re-emergence as a global force in swimming after a series of drug busts in the 1990s and the turn of the century.
China won 12 of 16 women’s titles at the 1994 world championships in Rome but their achievements were sullied less than a month later when seven of their swimmers tested positive for banned drugs at the Asian Games in Hiroshima.
At the 1998 world championships in Perth, four Chinese were sent home after testing positive for steroids a week after one of their team mates and her coach were caught at Sydney Airport smuggling human growth hormone.
Chinese authorities pledged to crack down but the world remained skeptical when 27 Chinese athletes, including four swimmers, were dropped from the Olympic team before the 2000 Sydney Games.
China won just one swimming gold at each of the next two Olympics but resurfaced at the 2012 Games in London, winning five titles, including two each from Sun and Ye Shiwen.
Sun became the first Chinese man to win an Olympic swimming title and was hailed as a national hero, while Ye was subjected to thinly-veiled accusations about her performances after winning the women’s individual medley double.
The news of Sun’s three-month penalty prompted another wave of criticism on social media and swimming websites but Zhao said the length of the penalty was appropriate.
“Sun proved with sufficient evidence that he did not intend to cheat, which helped reduce his ban to three months,” Zhao said.
“But his failure to inform the doping control official should be punished all the same.”
Writing by Julian Linden, Editing by Peter Rutherford
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