Said Janet Evans, America's greatest distance swimmer: "As long as the IOC is adamant about not banning (China) from the Olympics, I don't think anything will be solved. We can catch them one by one, but they will come up with another crop of swimmers."
Jeff Rouse, the world record-holder in the 100-meter backstroke, has circulated a petition asking leadership to focus on drug testing. Rouse said he doesn't want to look back in 20 years and discover that the Chinese used drugs, as was the case with East German athletes.
China has deflected the criticism by calling the Western swimmers racist. It had a similar reaction after criticism of Chinese female distance runners who began shattering world records with remarkable ease in the early 1990s.
But Rouse has a stronger reason for speaking out.
"The way we're heading now, the performance at the Olympics in 1996 will be second billing," he said. "It will be drugs. Every single performance will be questioned, no matter who it is by. That scares me."
Although Chinese sports officials say they welcome the recent scrutiny, many in China are afraid to say what they know about the system.
One Chinese coach said he had been instructed to give this standard response to questions about drug use:
"These athletes (who tested positive) are on their own individual behavior. What happened had nothing to do with state policy, team doctors or coaches. Even if there is a doctor or a coach involved, it is the result of their own individual behavior."
Although many have strong suspicions that China has adopted the East German model of a state-sponsored, systematic drug program, it is not that simple in such a vast country.
"The provinces might do one thing and the national team something else (as far as training and drug use are concerned)," said the former swimmer. "They have rivalries and don't share secrets."
But the recent spate of athletes testing positive came from different areas and different sports, indicating it is more than a regional problem.
"That our government or Olympic committee or national federations organize these things, for the time nobody can show," said Wei Jizhong, head of the Chinese Olympic Committee. "From our side, we also have doubts. We have seven swimmers (caught). Why? We have to find out."
One reason is pressure. The former swimmer said if athletes or coaches do not perform at a world-class level, they will be returned to the provinces, never to compete on the international stage again.
And it starts at a young age for the select few.
"As I know, most coaches would ask the parents when they send their children to sports teams or sports schools if they agree that we give drugs to their children," he said.
So far, China is sending mixed signals about how it views the problem.
It punished Bai Lin, the Tianjin Track and Field Assn.'s coach of top Chinese discus thrower Qiu Qiaoping, who was caught at Hiroshima. Bai was suspended and called to Beijing for questioning. Qiu was sent home to the province of central Sichuan, where she awaits punishment.
But according to last week's Asia Week, published in Hong Kong, the New People's Sports Daily in Shanghai published a report about the Chinese athletes who tested positive in Hiroshima, and was "sharply criticized by the propaganda department of the Shanghai municipal government, and a deputy chief editor who had only been in his new job six months was demoted."
No matter how careful they are, officials might be unable to stop revelations about the system. The first crack occurred last summer, when a technician from the IOC-accredited laboratory in Beijing made specific allegations against China's program after seeking asylum in Canada.
The technician described to the Canadian Broadcasting System and L'Equipe, the French national sports daily, a floating anti-drug laboratory off the shores of South Korea during the 1988 Summer Olympics and cover-ups in Beijing.
"Thirty-eight positives in a variety of sports," said Phillip Whitten, editor of Swimming World. "The notion that these reflect nothing more than individual (abuses) is absurd."
Almond reported from Los Angeles and Tempest from Beijing.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
In the last two years, 11 Chinese swimmers have tested positive for illegal performance-enhancing substances. In the 22 years since testing began, only 10 other swimmers--from the rest of the world--have tested positive.
Name Drug Site Ban Xin Zhou Steroids World Cup 2 years Zhong Weiyue Steroids World Cup 2 years Bai Xiuyu Ephedrine World Cup 1 month Xin Ren Steroids Goodwill Games 2 years Yang Aihua Steroids Asian Games 2 years Lu Bin Steroids Asian Games 2 years Shou Guanbin Steroids Asian Games 2 years Xiong Guoming* Steroids Asian Games 2 years Hu Bin* Steroids Asian Games 2 years Zhang Bin* Steroids Asian Games 2 years Fu Yong* Steroids Asian Games 2 years