The two American swimmers did not speak to the swimmer from China. They did not speak to her during the morning heats at Challenge Stadium in Perth, Australia. They did not speak to her at night before the finals. They did not nod, wink or smile in the close confines of the ready room. There was no eye contact. Shan Ying might as well have not existed for Jenny Thompson and Amy Van Dyken.
"She's not a part of this," Van Dyken said Monday at the World Swimming Championships. "Everyone else—the Japanese, Sandra Völker from Germany, everyone—is a part. She is not a part."
The event was the women's 100-meter freestyle, the first swimming event of the weeklong meet. This was the not-so-subtle tone that was being set: Why talk to a cheater? Why even acknowledge her as part of the glamour race of women's swimming?
The world governing body of the sport, FINA, might have to walk timidly, taking baby steps, worried about lawsuits and international relations and all the rest. The swimmers did not have to wait for test results and depositions. As far as they were concerned, the final piece of circumstantial evidence that China's suspiciously high-powered women swimmers use banned performance-enhancing substances had been delivered—hand-carried, actually—to the Sydney Airport last Thursday. A customs official, spot-checking the luggage of a Chinese swimmer, Yuan Yuan, discovered a thermos bottle filled with 13 vials of a substance labeled as a human growth hormone. A Chinese coach, Zhou Zhewen, reportedly claimed the substance was his but said he was bringing it into the country for a friend in Canberra. Scientists said that if the substance was growth hormone (initial test results showed it was; a final determination was expected this week), there was enough in the thermos to treat the
entire Chinese team for the entire meet.
It did not matter that the Chinese federation immediately pulled Zhou and Yuan from the meet. This was the telltale thermos—if not the smoking gun—that the swimming community had been seeking since the last worlds, four years ago in Rome, which the Chinese dominated by winning 12 gold medals in 16 women's events. Headlines in the Australian papers declared busted and great gall of china. The thermos, coupled with a string of 23 positive drug tests of Chinese swimmers in the 1990s, was an indictment if not a verdict. It was also noted that Zhou was Shan's coach.
"The Australians have been preparing to be tough on drugs," said John Leonard, an American who is the head of the World Swimming Coaches Association and a crusader against drugs in the sport. "A researcher from Australia came to my office in Fort Lauderdale and asked me about the Chinese, about what I thought they might do. I told him the drug they would be using would be growth hormone, because that can't be detected, but that they wouldn't bring it into the country because it couldn't be sent, that someone would have to carry it by hand to control the temperature, and that would be too risky. The guy called me at two in the morning on Friday and said, 'John, I guess you were wrong.' "
"If that coach was bringing that thermos into the country for a friend, then I'm Mao Tse-tung," U.S. men's coach Jon Urbanchek said. "They always say that the big thing they give their swimmers is turtle soup. Well, I guess the turtle soup this week is going to taste a little different, because they're missing some of the ingredients."
Leonard had brought along a bunch of pins with a red circle and a diagonal line going through a hypodermic needle and the words world swimming NO drugs! Several American swimmers and coaches wore the buttons. Even German coach Winfried Leopold, who has admitted giving steroids to East German swimmers during that nation's glory days in the 1970s and '80s and who is now threatened with punishment by FINA because of that admission, wore one as a sign of his change of heart.
The great feint-and-bob drug dance of the Atlanta Olympics about Ireland's Michelle Smith De Bruin—did she or didn't she?—was pushed aside; Smith missed the worlds because of an auto accident on Halloween that left her with a stiff neck. Even the initial stir over the presence of Leopold at the meet faded despite the stories pouring out of Germany almost daily of athletes suffering physical horrors from having been force-fed steroids years earlier. What was happening now was more obvious, more immediate. The Chinese were front-and-center villains.
"I don't feel angry with the swimmers," Thompson said. "More than anything, I think I feel sorry for them. They're just doing what their coaches tell them. I think they're like the East Germans that way."