SWIMNEWS ONLINE: April 1996 Magazine Articles

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Karin Helmstaedt

The day after Joanne Malar set a new Canadian record in the 400 IM to win a spot on Canada's Olympic team, the results from the Chinese national championships in Tianjin started rolling in.

Those results were not only disheartening, but alarmingly predictable: the women's events boasted times that made Canadian event winners look like age groupers, and many of the names came out of nowhere. There was much mad scrambling to the pages of the 1995 world rankings where fears were confirmed...after a year of lying low, the Chinese seemed to be pulling out all the stops.

15-year-old Yan Chen was touted as the newest star, sweeping the 400 IM, the 400 freestyle, and tying for first with Ying Shan in the 200 freestyle. If her 400 freestyle (4:11.33) was within reason, her 400 IM time of 4:40.85 left a number of chins on the floor. Chen was ranked 88th in the world last year in this event with a time 4:56.9.

Although FINA has mandated that member countries submit a list of their swimmers ranked in the top 50 for unannounced drug testing, it is clear that, unless observation and maintenance of those lists are relentless, someone like Chen could circumvent that policy entirely. The lists had to be in by Jan.1, 1996.

And Chen's rocket-like ascent to the top was not the only one to overshadow Malar; following her were Yanyan Wu in 4:41.2, and the world record-holder in the 200 IM, Li Lin in 4:42.02. The three women relegated Malar to 5th in the world, although thankfully only the first two will be in Atlanta.

Ying Shan, also the winner of the 100 freestyle, clocked an amazing 54.59 to beat world record-holder Jingyi Le, whose second place time of 54.69 would leave last year's top-ranked women in her wake. Third place Na Chao was a 55.7. Chan and Chao were ranked fourth and fifth respectively in the world last year. Amy van Dyken won the U.S. Olympic Trials last month in 55.27.

To further complicate things, the Chinese even have women with the same name. The winner of the 100 backstroke was... another Yan Chen, apparently not the same one as the Girl Wonder mentioned above. This Chen (ranked 40th in the 100 back and 58th in the 200 back last year) upstaged world record-holder Cihong He with a time of 1:02.71. Needless to say, the homonym could also complicate any drug testing measures.

Men's results were, as usual, unremarkable.
Is this at all surprising? No way. Whether it's organized or not, we've seen this kind of thing before. But seven positive tests by Chinese swimmers at the 1994 Asian Games was not enough to convince the powers that be that there is a real problem. Journalists and coaches around the world can rant themselves hoarse.

If we are not careful, we'll be listening to the Chinese anthem a few times too many in Atlanta. All eyes are on China, and now FINA, as the countdown continues. For the sake of our own athletes, who have worked their butts off to get there, let's hope the necessary rigour is maintained.

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