‘Team USA Was Cheated’: Chinese Doping Case Roils Swimming

The revelation that 23 Chinese swimmers tested positive for a banned drug seven months before the Tokyo Olympics but were secretly cleared and allowed to continue competing has exposed a bitter and at times deeply personal rift inside the fight to keep drugs out of international sports, and brought new criticism of the global authority that oversees drug-testing.

A New York Times investigation uncovered previously unreported details of the 2021 episode, in which a contingent of Chinese swimmers, including nearly half of the team that China sent to the Tokyo Games, tested positive for a banned prescription heart medicine that can help athletes increase stamina and reduce recovery times.

Within hours, the disclosure of an incident that had been a secret for more than three years was roiling swimming. An American Olympian who took home a silver medal from Tokyo said she felt her team had been “cheated” in a race won by China. A British gold medalist called for a lifetime ban for the swimmers involved on social media. And a simmering feud between global antidoping officials and their U.S. counterparts burst into the open with caustic statements and legal threats.

“Any time there’s a situation where positive tests aren’t clearly identified and gone through a proper process and protocol, it allows for doubt to creep into athletes’ minds who are competing clean,” said Greg Meehan, the Stanford University coach who led the U.S. women’s team at the Tokyo Games. “When they’re going into competitions, you can’t help but think, ‘Am I competing in a clean event?’”

The fallout comes less than 100 days before the opening ceremony of the Paris Olympics. That has created uncomfortable headlines both for the sport but also for the Games themselves, which depend on global antidoping regulators to ensure fair play and the integrity of the medals awarded — which can validate years of training, define athletes’ careers and confer pride on a nation.

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