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WORLD SCENE : Chinese Officials Suspend Coaches to Appease FINA

March 06, 1995|RANDY HARVEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

As a gift to international swimming federation representatives who left Beijing on Sunday after a five-day visit, Chinese sports officials gave them the heads of an unspecified number of coaches whose athletes have tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs.

In announcing "temporary suspensions" of the coaches, Wei Jizhong, secretary general of China's Olympic committee, said he had no proof that the coaches instigated the doping, but the Chinese apparently believed they had to appease FINA.

The FINA representatives, who met with officials, coaches and several of the 11 banned swimmers, also received a promise from the secretary general of the Chinese Swimming Assn. that there would be no more positive tests.

Here's wondering whether FINA asked him how he could make such a promise if his organization, as he claims, has no control over the nefarious actions of its coaches and swimmers.

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After years as a nomadic sport, wandering from one cable channel to another, track and field during this indoor season found a network home. The audience was not as large as bowling's, but it was almost as large as college basketball's. More significant, it was much larger than the sport had in recent years.

For that, USA Track & Field's Ollan Cassell, who has served as bandleader on the Titanic in his role as executive director of a sinking sport, deserves credit. In conjunction with International Management Group, USATF bought time on NBC for five consecutive Saturday afternoons and contracted some of the sport's biggest names to compete in the meets, climaxing with the national championships over the weekend in Atlanta.

"We've found out that to improve the sport we need more head-to-head competition among the top athletes and more network television coverage," said Fran Michelman, a USATF marketing consultant. "This was a big step forward."

The next step, she said, will be to formulate a similar plan to cover a U.S. outdoor circuit, probably after the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.

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When the world figure skating championships begin this week in Birmingham, England, the London's Fleet Street tabloids will turn their attention from Camilla and Di to Nicole Bobek, the U.S. champion who has invited more comparisons than she cares for to Tonya Harding. In the latest episode, Bobek, 17, of Chicago, was charged with unlawfully entering a friend's home.

After pleading guilty, she was given youthful-offender status, which sealed the records. But the judge dismissed the case after reports of it appeared in newspapers, ruling that confidentiality had been breached.

Who talked?

Bobek's lawyer, Michael Friedman, alleged to USA Today that it was a private investigator hired by an unidentified rival skater.

"It is another example of jealousy and envy at work in skating," he said. "With Nancy Kerrigan, it was a smash to the knee. With Nicole Bobek, it was sully her reputation."

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Her fall from the beam Thursday in Seattle, eliminating her from Saturday's finals of the American Cup, led to questions about whether two-time world gymnastics champion Shannon Miller is past her prime. After all, she turns 18 this week. "I am shocked a little bit," she said. "But I don't think this means this is it for me." Her next competition is the Pan American Games, which open Saturday in Mar del Plata, Argentina. . . . The cancellation of women's basketball from the Pan-Am Games because of lack of interest from most of the countries in the hemisphere is a disappointment because it means there is one fewer chance to watch Brazil's brilliant Hortencia play in international competition before she retires after the 1996 Summer Games. . . . Track's Michael Johnson, who set the world indoor record in the 400 meters for the second time Saturday in Atlanta, said he is going after Butch Reynolds' outdoor record of 43.29 seconds this summer and plans to enter the 200 and the 400 in the World Championships in Sweden.

Times Staff Writer Maryann Hudson contributed to this report.

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