Runners pose a can of worms China coach gives diet credit for women's records

September 12, 1993|By Robert Benjamin | Robert Benjamin,Beijing Bureau

BEIJING -- The coach of the Chinese female runners who set two world records last week says their startling success comes more from dried worms than illegal, performance-enhancing drugs.

The two Chinese young women and several of their teammates

sparked the suspicions with a spectacular display at the World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany, last month.

There, they took the top three places in the 3,000 meters, with Qu winning. They took the first two places in the 10,000 meters, with Wang winning. Then they took a first and a fourth in the 1,500 meters. Some of the Chinese runners' times in the races were so much better than their previous best marks that questions were raised immediately about whether they're using banned substances.

But Ma said last night that all drug tests on Chinese athletes at Stuggart turned up negative.

Moreover, the International Amateur Athletic Federation, which has been granted permanent visas to conduct random drug testing here on Chinese athletes, reportedly has detected only three problems in 50 samples taken during the past 16 months -- hardly enough evidence to back up the suspicions.

Nevertheless, the same questions were even more openly raised again this week when Wang so thoroughly shattered the 10,000-meter mark.

In the United States, former world cross-country champion Lynn Jennings reportedly cried when told of Wang's astonishing feat.

"Something is wrong, and it is tragic for sport," she is reported to have said. "I believe these performances are out of scale. I believe they are derived from something illicit."

The questions run right up against not only Chinese national pride, but China's hopes for success in the International Olympics Committee's Sept. 23 decision on Beijing's bid to host the Olympics in 2000. So, though offensive to many Chinese, they've been sent scrambling for answers themselves.

"The Chinese female athletes can withstand hardships better than men," Weng Qingzhang, deputy secretary general of the Chinese Association of Sports Medicine, told reporters in London last week. He attributed their successes to high-altitude training.

But the Beijing Daily newspaper revealed Ma feeds his athletes a porridge of millet and dates, as well as dog meat stewed in chicken soup.

Ma himself disclosed to another Chinese reporter that, the day before Wang's 10,000-meter record, he bought her a 9-pound soft-shell turtle to eat, a high-energy delicacy costing $224 -- more than the average Chinese peasant makes in a year.

But last night, Ma -- a former high school gym teacher who went to night school to learn how to be a coach -- made public his secret weapon: the Chinese herbal medicine known as "Chong Chao Wang," the source of which he described as "a worm in the winter and a grass in the summer."

That and only that, he said, is the "Ma Family Soldiers' special tonic."

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