Olympic Athletes Could Get Branded as Cheats

CHINA - CHINA - An official from the General Administration of Sport of China (GASC) denied reports that athletes were banned in January from eating untested pork, beef and lamb in an attempt to avoid doping scandals in the run-up to the London Olympics.
calendar icon 24 April 2012
clock icon 3 minute read

Still, extreme caution is in order.

"The administration has never banned athletes from eating meat. It just reminded them to be on alert," said Chen Zhiyu, head of the general office of GASC's science and education department.

Chinese media reported earlier this month that Olympic champion hurdler Liu Xiang hasn't eaten pork for years due to fears he could accidentally consume clenbuterol - known in China as "lean meat powder" - the banned performance-enhancing substance that led to Olympic judo champion Tong Wen's two-year suspension in 2010.

"I specifically checked with the 110m hurdles team's leader, Yang Jimin," Chen said. "He felt pretty angry (when he heard the report). He emphasized Liu has never stopped eating pork."

With the Games approaching though, athletes are being kept within the system.

The athletes assembled at the national training center in Beijing are not allowed to have meals in restaurants outside the base.

"The food is totally reliable here at the base," said Ye Zhennan, manager of the national gymnastics team, during a media session last Friday. "But no one knows whether it is safe or not in other places. So we don't allow them to eat out.

"We can't afford to take any risks at the crucial moment now. All our athletes have to eat only in the center's canteen, even when they have a day off."

Mr Zhennan's concern comes as a handful of star athletes claim to have failed drug tests due to dinning out.

Earlier this year, three-time Tour de France champion Alberto Contador from Spain was banned two years from cycling and stripped of his 2010 title after testing positive for clenbuterol, claiming he unwittingly ate contaminated beef.

There were similar stories from Tong, female former world No 1 shuttler Zhou Mi and budding German table-tennis star Dimitrij Ovtcharov.

The World Anti-Doping Agency issued a warning last November to athletes traveling to China and Mexico, urging them to exercise extreme caution when eating meat.

To guarantee a drug-free environments leading up to London, experts from the national anti-doping center closely examined every link of the catering service, routinely tested food ingredients from their sources and provided education to athletes.

The center has started to conducts doping tests more frequently, examining more than 10,000 samples annually, according to deputy director Zhao Jian.

Still, the athletes' own vigilance is key, Mr Zhennan said.

"The food security standard for athletes is much higher than the one that applies to ordinary people," Ye said. "Players have to make it a priority, just like preventing injuries in their daily training."

he The athletes don't seem to mind eating all their meals in the cafeteria.

"It actually doesn't bother us at all," said Guo Ailun, a guard on the men's national basketball team, which is practicing at the center. "I didn't hear of any meat ban. We still have all kinds of meat dishes here on the menu. Beef and pork steaks, they are safe and yummy."

Mr Ailun said the players are required to consult with the team doctor if they ingest any new food, medicine or other nutrition.

If there's a reason athletes must eat out, the team will ask for a note that lists the exact date, restaurant and dish, just in case a test is later needed.

"This is a way to be able to defend yourself and appeal your innocence in case you unexpectedly fail a test," said Zhang Xiong, manager of the men's basketball team.

"It can at least prove that it happened because of food, not drugs."

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