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China doctor defends doping in '80s, '90s as 'widespread'

SYDNEY -- A Chinese doctor said to be at the center of a state-sponsored Olympic doping regime in the 1980s and 1990s defended his actions Saturday, claiming the U.S., France and Russia were all doing the same.

Chen Zhanghao, lead doctor for the Chinese Olympic team at the Los Angeles, Seoul and Barcelona Games, told Australia's Sydney Morning Herald newspaper he had tested hormones, blood doping and steroids on about 50 elite athletes.

“We tried (hormones) first but found they were not effective,” Chen told the Herald.

“We added hemoglobin when we found it was low (in specific athletes), and also androgens,” he said, referring to the use of blood doping and steroids.

The revelations follow similar claims made to the newspaper Friday by Chen's colleague Xue Yinxian, former chief doctor for the Chinese gymnastics team, that official use of steroids and growth hormone was “rampant” in the 1980s.

Chen, said by Xue to be at the center of the state-sponsored program, expressed pride at his role in elevating sport in China and told the Herald doping was a widespread practice at the time.

“The United States, the Soviet Union and France were all using them so we did as well,” said Chen, who retired in 1992.

“So how can you condemn China but not the USA or Soviet Union?”

Chen also blamed foreign experts for “lying” to the Chinese about the effectiveness of doping, saying he and others “blindly believed them like fools.”

“After trying them ourselves we made two conclusions: one is that training is the key after all, and even in the U.S., taking drugs do not guarantee performance.”

He said Chinese officials eventually came to the conclusion that “50 percent of people found (the doping) effective and 50 percent did not,” adding that he had steered away from growth hormones to steroids because they were cheaper.

Chen said he was governed by three principles — that the athlete took the substances voluntarily, that no harm was caused and that they were effective.

Xue claimed Friday that steroids and human growth hormones were officially treated as part of “scientific training” as China emerged as a sporting power, and athletes often did not know what they were being injected with.

The admissions were said by the Herald to be the first from anyone within the system publicly contradicting Beijing's line that a host of embarrassing doping busts in the 1990s were down to ambitious individual athletes and coaches.

Beijing has insisted it has cleaned up its act since the 1994 world swimming championships when China performed beyond expectations to win 12 gold medals amid widespread suspicions of doping.

Later that year seven swimmers tested positive for steroids at the Hiroshima Asian Games, which left the squad so decimated that it won only one swimming gold at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

The decline was only temporary and by 1998 China was back — until four more positive tests and the discovery of human growth hormone in a swimmer's luggage at that year's world championships in Perth, Australia.

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