State-Sponsored Doping – This Time in China

Ma Junren and his Army
Chinese Track coach Ma Junren and his “Army”

Old letters from our youth can trigger warm memories or nascent insecurities. Some should be published for their form and insightfulness. Others should be lost to eternity.

The Chinese government may have wished for the latter for one particular letter that has unveiled yet-another possible example of state-sponsored doping. Russia’s athletics team is banned from competing in the 2016 Rio Olympics, and Kenya’s team is under threat of ban. Now China is facing scrutiny over allegations that Ma Junren, the coach of China’s female middle- and long-distance runners, forced performance-enhancing drugs on his team of runners.

While the news broke in early February of this year, the source of the news was a letter written in 1995, signed by nine members of Ma Junren’s team. The women on this team, who also faced intolerable physical and verbal abuse from their coach, delivered the letter to an investigative reporter they respected, Zhao Yu. Nineteen years later, this letter was finally published in a book by Zhao Yu, unnoticed by the public, until a Chinese sports website called shared the letter this month. Here is part of that letter:

What we have told you about how Coach Ma verbally and physically abused us for years is true. It is also true that he tricked and forced us into using large quantities of banned drugs for years. We have a heavy heart and very complicated feelings in exposing him.

The person who is said to have written this letter is Wang Junxia, who was coached by Ma until 1995. Under Ma, Wang set records and won titles in marathons, 10ks, 3ks and 1500 meter races. In 1995, Wang and her teammates left their coach. In 1996, at the Atlanta Summer Games, Wang won gold in the inaugural women’s 5,000 meter race, as well as silver in the 10,000 meter competition.

Wang Junxia at the Atlanta Summer Games
Wang Junxia at the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta

And now, due to this recently publicized revelations, what Wang wrote in that letter 21 years ago may ring true: “We are concerned that our motherland’s reputation will be harmed, and we are also concerned about ‘how much gold’ there will be in our gold medals that were earned through blood and sweat.”

Go to this New York Times article for the full text of the letter.