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Li Zhesi Banned For EPO Positive

Jan 29, 2013  - Craig Lord

(File updated since original file, adding name of banned coach)

Following our report and questions in December and a pending question from the USA, FINA today imposed a two-year ban on Li Zhesi, the Chinese teenager who at 16 last March 31 tested positive for EPO, and her coach Wang Shun.

Feng Zhen coached Li from a young age and was her coach leading up to Shanghai 2011 world titles, when Li won relay gold for China.  Feng oversaw the rapid development of Li, who produced world-class speed at 12, as well as Li Xuanxu, Xu Yin and Yu Meihong, all world-class at 13 years of age. 

When the news of Li's banned came out today, FINA was unable to reveal the name of the coach when asked by SwimNews. It would take 24 hours to come through. China then named Wang Shun.

Some of Feng's swimmers ended up with his coaching deckmate Wang Shun, now named by FINA as the suspended coach who will also receive a fine of 5,000 Chinese Yuan (about 600 euros), small fry in the world of doping. The same fee, to cover the cost of testing, was imposed on Zhesi. For those who supplied the banned substances, such sums are paltry.

More interesting was the accompanying action in the case: Liaoning Provincial Swimming Association received a warning and will cover the costs of 20 anti-doping controls, so around euros 12,000. 

Feng remains in charge of a squad of young athletes, Wang the man who takes the drop. Feng was mentor to Li Zhesi and Li Xuanxu, who claimed bronze in the 400m medley at London 2012 in the race in which teammate Ye Shiwen clocked a stunning 58.6 last 100m for a world-record victory in which she swam as fast on freestyle as five of the finalists in the equivalent event among men.

China has sought to clamp down on its doping problems in recent years after more than 45 positive tests between 1993 and 2002. Precisely why the provincial swim association should receive such punishment has not been made clear, though it is known that one way in which China tries to control its doping problem is to select for national teams only those it believes to be clean. Team selections for major events in recent years  have left swimmers in the China top 3 at home, while swimmers ranked between 4th and even 12th have made it to international waters on some of the biggest of occasions.

While some wonder why a young sprinter would need a substance associated with endurance sport, EPO stimulates RBC production, sprinters able to benefit from the increase in oxygenation during specific training phases. The fines and bans involved do not reflect the level of dangers inherent in giving under-age athletes EPO. In the wake of the GDR doping trials of the late 1990s, German laws stretch to jail terms for those who supply banned substances to under-age athletes.

Meanwhile, no explanation has been given as to why it took China so long to confirm what was known within their system in April and publicly by June. At Christmas, nine months after the positive test was returned, FINA had had no official word from China despite a rule that obliges member federations to report positives within 14 days of a report. Chinada made the case public in June.

Today, FINA added the case to its anti-doping file as follows:

Doping Offence - Li Zhesi (CHN)

In March 2012, the swimmer Li Zhesi (CHN) was tested positive to the substance EPO (Class S.2 Peptides Hormones) following a doping control test conducted out-of-competition by China Swimming Association in cooperation with CHINADA.

The China Swimming Federation imposed a sanction of two (2) years’ ineligibility on Ms. Li Zhesi, as well as on her coach.