Evidence That Chinese Athletes Are Cheating to Win Gold

P Photo/Petr David Josek

Last Sunday a Chinese runner named He Jie won a gold medal in the Beijing half-marathon. But yesterday He and three athletes who finished just behind him were stripped of their medals after video of the finish suggested the other three runners let him win. Here's video of the finish. 


The tweet reads:

On April 14, the Beijing Half Marathon was suspected of match-fixing, which aroused public doubts. In the video, in the last few hundred meters of the race, Chinese athlete He Jie was originally behind, but one of the three foreign athletes turned around and waved his hand, apparently signaling He Jie to overtake, and then signaled his teammates to slow down. In the end, He Jie completed the overtaking in tacit understanding and won the championship with a one-second advantage.

This dramatic scene has aroused public doubts.

He Jie is currently a member of the Chinese men's marathon national team, the champion of the Hangzhou Asian Games, and the men's national record holder.

The Chinese runner, He, is one of the country's top long-distance runners and will soon be heading to the Paris Olympics.

Today the NY Times has the results of a much more intriguing scandal involving Chinese swimmers. The 2020 Olympics were delayed a year because of the pandemic. In early 2021, about 7 months before the Olympic games, 23 of China's top swimmers tested positive for a banned drug called TMZ which can boost performance. China investigated the doping and cleared all of its own athletes.


Several of the athletes who tested positive — including nearly half of the swimming team that China sent to the Tokyo Games — went on to win medals, including three golds. Many still compete for China and several, including the two-time gold medalist Zhang Yufei, are expected to contend for medals again at this year’s Summer Games in Paris.

China acknowledged the positive tests in a report by its antidoping regulator, saying that the swimmers had ingested the banned substance unwittingly and in tiny amounts, and that no action against them was warranted.

How did this unwitting doping of two dozen elite athletes happen? Well, China has a story to explain that.

In their report, Chinese investigators described how many of the country’s best swimmers were staying at the same hotel for a domestic meet in the final days of 2020 and the first days of 2021. Two months after the swimmers tested positive for the banned substance — a prescription heart drug that can enhance performance — Chinese investigators reported finding trace amounts of the substance in the hotel’s kitchen.

Their report offered no evidence of how the drug got there, despite enlisting the help of China’s national police. But they concluded that the swimmers had unwittingly ingested it in small amounts.

Why would a prescription heart medicine be found in a kitchen? The Chinese never explained that. It just happened somehow. Equally strange is that the World Anti-Doping Association (WADA), which is supposed to oversee the testing done by national organizations went along with this story. WADA concluded there was no evidence that what China was claiming didn't happen as described, which seems like a strange way to handle positive doping tests.


Also, when a Russian athlete tested positive for the same drug the same year, the response was very different.

When Russia’s antidoping body cleared the teenage skater Kamila Valieva for testing positive for TMZ in 2022, WADA appealed its finding. It demanded that the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the authority that adjudicates disputes in global sports, reject Russia’s decision to clear Valieva, who was then still competing in the Winter Olympics in Beijing.

Valieva said she had been an unwitting victim of contamination, the same explanation that China provided for its swimmers. An appeal committee at Russia’s antidoping agency even accepted the claim that Valieva had tracked the source of the low concentration of the TMZ in her system to a strawberry dessert prepared for her by her grandfather, who said he had a prescription for the medication. The court summarily dismissed the claim as lacking credibility.

WADA took a far different stance in the case of the Chinese swimmers. Even though the Chinese had failed to find the source of the TMZ, WADA said it had “concluded that it was not in a position to disprove the possibility that contamination was the source of TMZ” and found no reason to appeal China’s decision to take no action.

The Russian skater wound up being banned for four years. The Chinese swimmers, as mentioned, went on to win a bunch of medals in the Olympics.


After an athlete tests positive for a banned substance the government is required to, at a minimum, publicly announce the results. But that didn't happen in this case either. Because China had concocted this story about a restaurant kitchen no announcement was ever made. 

China's story is that the amount of the drug found in samples was low, a trace amount from food contamination not capable of boosting performance. But others have pointed out that the evidence of these drugs gradually purges itself from the body. So maybe what happened here is that these 23 athletes were caught as they were tapering off a much larger dose. That explanation is certainly more plausible than the one involving the restaurant.

The world body, WADA, seems to have completely dropped the ball here for reasons that aren't clear, but the American equivalent, the United States Anti-Doping Agency, thinks the Chinese were cheating.

“This appears to be a devastating stab in the back of clean athletes and a deep betrayal of all the athletes who compete fairly and follow the rules,” said the U.S. antidoping agency’s chief executive officer, Travis T. Tygart, who acknowledged providing WADA with allegations of doping in Chinese swimming multiple times since 2020. “All of those with dirty hands in burying these positives and suppressing the voices of courageous whistle-blowers must be held accountable to the fullest extent of the rules and law.”


Overall, Chinese athletes won 38 gold medals in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. They came in just behind the US which won 39 gold medals. The Paris summer Olympics start about three months from now.

Finally, it's worth noting this is not the first time a top Chinese Olympic swimmer has been accused of doping.

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