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Over a Third of China’s Paris Olympics Swimming Roster Tied to Doping Scandal

4 minute read

When China unveiled its roster of 31 swimmers set to represent the country at the upcoming Paris Summer Games, 11 of the competitors remain embroiled in a doping scandal from the previous Olympics that continues to send shockwaves across the sporting world and beyond.

According to an April New York Times report, 23 Chinese swimmers had, months before the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, tested positive for trimetazidine (TMZ), a prescription heart drug that can enhance performance and has been banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) since 2014. However, half of them were still allowed to compete in Tokyo after Chinese authorities cleared them and WADA accepted the decision.

Among China’s 31-member roster for Paris, published Tuesday on the Chinese Swimming Association website, are seven athletes—Peng Xuwei, Qin Haiyang, Sun Jiajun, Wang Shun, Yang Junxuan, Yu Yiting, and Zhang Yufei—who had tested positive for TMZ in 2020 and competed in Tokyo. Another four athletes who had tested positive—Chen Juner, Fei Liwei, Ge Chutong, and Wang Xue’er—did not participate in the Tokyo Olympics but will be swimming in Paris. 

Three of the athletes—Olympic gold medalists Wang Shun and Yang Junxuan, as well as the 200-meter men’s breaststroke world record holder Qin Haiyang—had also failed earlier tests in 2016 and 2017 for what WADA described as “trace amounts” of the banned steroid clenbuterol, the Times reported last week.

The doping scandal has rocked the sporting world since April and drawn criticism from American authorities, with the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) saying in a statement that WADA and the Chinese anti-doping body had “swept these positives under the carpet by failing to fairly and evenly follow the global rules that apply to everyone else in the world.” Bipartisan lawmakers have since called for an investigation by the Justice Department and the International Olympic Committee into allegations of a cover-up. 

“Olympic athletes dedicate years of their lives to perfect their craft in order to represent the United States on the world stage. They—as well as athletes from every other country—deserve to compete on a level playing field that’s free of banned performance enhancing drugs,” House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Chair Morgan Griffith (R-VA) said in a press release Tuesday, announcing a public hearing next week at which former U.S. Olympians Michael Phelps and Allison Schmitt as well as USADA CEO Travis Tygart will testify.

“The World Anti-Doping Agency, the governing body responsible for enforcing fair standards, has a questionable track record of fulfilling that mission. This hearing will give Members a chance to examine that track record, identify opportunities for improvement, and ensure that the best athletes are the ones taking home gold medals,” Rodgers and Griffith said.

WADA, for its part, has vehemently denied the accusations, describing media coverage in a statement as “misleading and potentially defamatory.” Chinese officials had concluded in 2021 that the athletes had inadvertently ingested the substance via contaminated food in the same hotel, and WADA said in its recent statement “there was no concrete basis to challenge the asserted contamination”—though amid the refreshed scrutiny, WADA assigned Swiss prosecutor Eric Cottier to review its handling of the case.

The scandal is set to cast a shadow over the Olympics next month, with some athletes reportedly discussing anti-China demonstrations in Paris as a protest of the doping row. 

“Ban them all and never compete again,” British Olympic gold medalist James Guy wrote in a post on X when the scandal broke.

“It’s hard going into Paris knowing that we’re gonna be racing some of these athletes,” American seven-time Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky told CBS News in an interview earlier this month. “And I think our faith in some of the systems is at an all-time low.”

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