After breaking the world record in the 10,000-meter run in 1993, Wang Junxia was sensitive to accusations that she and fellow Chinese women runners had used anabolic steroids to help their remarkable rise in international sport.
"China has an old saying," Wang said then. " 'If you've done nothing wrong, then you don't fear the ghost crying out at the door; if you stand upright, then you don't fear the crooked shadow.' "
But fear is something Chinese sports officials have in abundance these days. Fear that their finely tuned sports machine that has taken over women's track and field, swimming and weightlifting cannot withstand another drug scandal. Fear that as China struggles to become a geopolitical power, it has become a pariah among sporting nations.
Today in Honolulu, some of those fears could be realized when the four charter nations of the Pan-Pacific Swimming Assn.--Australia, Canada, Japan and the United States--are expected to take the highly unusual action of banning China from its prestigious championships this summer in Atlanta.
The proposed ban is the result of 11 Chinese, including seven swimmers, testing positive before and during the Asian Games last October in Hiroshima, Japan, igniting an international scandal. Two gold-medal winning female weightlifters tested positive a month later at the World Championships in Istanbul, Turkey, and were banned for life.
All but one of those positives were for a potent anabolic steroid, dihydrotestosterone, a drug long suspected of being used but undetected until the Asian Games.
Furthermore, a significant number of other Chinese athletes had elevated levels of dihydrotestosterone in their urine at the Asian Games but not enough to be declared positive.
Last year, 38 Chinese athletes, including 11 swimmers, tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. Two world champion swimmers--Yang Aihua and Lu Bin--were caught and banned through the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Since 1988, 47 Chinese have tested positive for anabolic steroids.
"It is a big problem," said a former Chinese swimmer living in the United States. "(Getting caught) was bound to happen. It had to happen. They've got to change."
The swimmer, who asked not to be identified, refused to elaborate on what is happening in China's sports programs.
"Maybe in 10 years, like the East Germans, the truth can be told," he said. "I can't. It's too risky."
Today's decision in Honolulu no doubt has Chinese swim leaders fearing further ramifications in a sport in which their female athletes won 12 of 16 gold medals at last summer's World Championships in Rome and all 15 titles in Hiroshima (although medals subsequently withdrawn).
"If they fairly view China's anti-drug position . . . then the swimmers should not be banned," said Yuan Jiawei, deputy secretary general of the Chinese Swimming Assn.
But in the last year, 11 Chinese swimmers tested positive while no other country had even one. Responding to an outcry from coaches and athletes, the International Swimming Federation (FINA) on Friday conceded it had a problem and proposed increased testing, stiffer penalties and an on-site investigation in China.
Yuan said Saturday that the Chinese will cooperate with the investigation to "clear up any problem."
FINA had been slow in responding to the crisis, in part, because it could not conduct random, out-of-competition testing in China without getting a visa to enter the country. FINA is proposing to conduct about 300 more short-notice random tests than last year.
FINA also plans to convene an extraordinary anti-doping congress in late fall at the Short Course World Championships in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to consider increasing suspensions for first-time offenders.
Many in the swimming community called on leadership to ban China from the Rio championships, a position FINA is reluctant to take. Cornel Marculescu, the group's executive director, downplayed the China drug scandal, not even acknowledging that his sport has a serious problem.
Speaking from Lausanne, Switzerland, last week, Marculescu also said that FINA is not concerned about the possibility of a country being banned from the Pan-Pacific Championships.
Others suggest swimming's leadership is afraid to criticize the Chinese because it does not want to offend the International Olympic Committee, which governs the Olympic Games.
"Somehow, FINA thinks itself beholden to the IOC," said Forbes Carlile, director of Australian Swim Coaches Assn. "Without the Chinese, it really punctures the marketability of the whole Games."
Such skepticism was fueled because the first action FINA took during the Asian Games ordeal was to suspend its chief medical officer, Alan Richardson of Honolulu, for confirming news reports that China's swimmers had tested positive. Richardson has since been reinstated, Marculescu said.
"This is not a game of being politically correct," Carlile said from Sydney. "This is a game of protecting our swimmers from cheats."