Wet and Wild A Chinese drug bust and a U.S. win in the 100 opened the worlds with a splash

January 19, 1998

The two American swimmers did not speak to the swimmer from
China. They did not speak to her during the morning heats at
Challenge Stadium in Perth, Australia. They did not speak to her
at night before the finals. They did not nod, wink or smile in
the close confines of the ready room. There was no eye contact.
Shan Ying might as well have not existed for Jenny Thompson and
Amy Van Dyken.

"She's not a part of this," Van Dyken said Monday at the World
Swimming Championships. "Everyone else--the Japanese, Sandra
Volker from Germany, everyone--is a part. She is not a part."

The event was the women's 100-meter freestyle, the first
swimming event of the weeklong meet. This was the not-so-subtle
tone that was being set: Why talk to a cheater? Why even
acknowledge her as part of the glamour race of women's swimming?

The world governing body of the sport, FINA, might have to walk
timidly, taking baby steps, worried about lawsuits and
international relations and all the rest. The swimmers did not
have to wait for test results and depositions. As far as they
were concerned, the final piece of circumstantial evidence that
China's suspiciously high-powered women swimmers use banned
performance-enhancing substances had been
delivered--hand-carried, actually--to the Sydney Airport last
Thursday. A customs official, spot-checking the luggage of a
Chinese swimmer, Yuan Yuan, discovered a thermos bottle filled
with 13 vials of a substance labeled as a human growth hormone.
A Chinese coach, Zhou Zhewen, reportedly claimed the substance
was his but said he was bringing it into the country for a
friend in Canberra. Scientists said that if the substance was
growth hormone (initial test results showed it was; a final
determination was expected this week), there was enough in the
thermos to treat the entire Chinese team for the entire meet.

It did not matter that the Chinese federation immediately pulled
Zhou and Yuan from the meet. This was the telltale thermos--if
not the smoking gun--that the swimming community had been
seeking since the last worlds, four years ago in Rome, which the
Chinese dominated by winning 12 gold medals in 16 women's
events. Headlines in the Australian papers declared BUSTED and
GREAT GALL OF CHINA. The thermos, coupled with a string of 23
positive drug tests of Chinese swimmers in the 1990s, was an
indictment if not a verdict. It was also noted that Zhou was
Shan's coach.

"The Australians have been preparing to be tough on drugs," said
John Leonard, an American who is the head of the World Swimming
Coaches Association and a crusader against drugs in the sport.
"A researcher from Australia came to my office in Fort
Lauderdale and asked me about the Chinese, about what I thought
they might do. I told him the drug they would be using would be
growth hormone, because that can't be detected, but that they
wouldn't bring it into the country because it couldn't be sent,
that someone would have to carry it by hand to control the
temperature, and that would be too risky. The guy called me at
two in the morning on Friday and said, 'John, I guess you were
wrong.'"

"If that coach was bringing that thermos into the country for a
friend, then I'm Mao Tse-tung," U.S. men's coach Jon Urbanchek
said. "They always say that the big thing they give their
swimmers is turtle soup. Well, I guess the turtle soup this week
is going to taste a little different, because they're missing
some of the ingredients."

Leonard had brought along a bunch of pins with a red circle and
a diagonal line going through a hypodermic needle and the words
WORLD SWIMMING NO DRUGS! Several American swimmers and coaches
wore the buttons. Even German coach Winfried Leopold, who has
admitted giving steroids to East German swimmers during that
nation's glory days in the 1970s and '80s and who is now
threatened with punishment by FINA because of that admission,
wore one as a sign of his change of heart.

The great feint-and-bob drug dance of the Atlanta Olympics about
Ireland's Michelle Smith De Bruin--did she or didn't she?--was
pushed aside; Smith missed the worlds because of an auto
accident on Halloween that left her with a stiff neck. Even the
initial stir over the presence of Leopold at the meet faded
despite the stories pouring out of Germany almost daily of
athletes suffering physical horrors from having been force-fed
steroids years earlier. What was happening now was more obvious,
more immediate. The Chinese were front-and-center villains.

"I don't feel angry with the swimmers," Thompson said. "More
than anything, I think I feel sorry for them. They're just doing
what their coaches tell them. I think they're like the East
Germans that way."

More than anyone else, the 24-year-old Thompson had been
affected by the success of the Chinese. True, she is tied with
speed skater Bonnie Blair for the most Olympic gold medals
(five) won by a U.S. woman, but all of them came in relays. She
never had won an individual gold medal in either the Olympics or
the worlds. In the Barcelona Games, after setting the world
record in the 100 at the U.S. trials, Thompson finished behind
Yong Zhuang of China. At the worlds in Rome, she was behind Le
Jingyi. In Atlanta she did not even qualify for the 100, which
was won by Le.

Thompson admitted being bothered by the idea that she might be
losing to athletes who cheated, but she said she had decided to
simply swim her best and see what happened. Was she tempted to
seek some under-the-counter magic? "I don't even take my
vitamins," the Stanford grad from Dover, N.H., said. "I forget
most of the time."

Her only gimmicks for this race were toenails and fingernails
painted a lucky red, white and blue, and a special Speedo suit
that featured aerodynamic rubber bumps across her backside.
("Not pleasant to sit down in," she said.) The rest was just
swimming, the usual pell-mell dash of a sprinter.

Thompson started in lane 4 because she'd had the best qualifying
time of the morning. Van Dyken, the slowest qualifier, started
on the outside, in lane 8. Shan started in lane 6. At the turn
Van Dyken, winner of four golds in Atlanta, was second. Volker
was first. Thompson was third. Shan was fourth. At the
finish--blink and you missed it--Volker had faded to fourth,
Shan was third and Martina Moravcova of Slovakia had moved up to
second. Thompson was the winner. Her time was 54.95 seconds, .94
off the world record held by Le.

She said it was nice to beat the Chinese, but then again, it was
nice to beat anyone. She never had won an individual race of
such significance. Shan, through an interpreter, said she had
been bothered by "the situation" and the way it was portrayed by
"the local media." Van Dyken said that justice was pretty much
served by Thompson's victory, that Thompson deserved to win,
that she had deserved to win other races, too.

"What about Shan?" a reporter asked. "Do you think she might
have done better if the customs officials hadn't been so
observant?"

"I don't know," Van Dyken said. "Maybe she was just more in
touch with her feminine side today. O.K.?"

O.K.

COLOR PHOTO: BOB MARTIN Thompson's win in the sprint gave the five-time relay gold medalist her first individual world title. [Jenny Thompson swimming]
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)