China Dumps Olympic Athletes in Drug Crackdown

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China has dumped almost 10% of its 311-member Olympic team, including some who failed a last-minute drug test. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) confirmed today that seven rowers--notably ace women's single sculler Zhang Xiuyun--have tested positive for the performance-enhancing drug EPO, and will not be competing in Sydney.

Twenty other athletes have also been cut from the Olympic team, although it is unclear whether they have withdrawn due to positive drug tests or because they failed to meet national athletic qualifications. "This is a warning to all athletes who wish to come to the games with drugs in their system--stay at home," I.O.C. vice president Anita DeFrantz said after the news broke. "Do not come...if you are not coming clean."

China is one of five finalists bidding to host the 2008 Olympics and a repeat of its doping-scandal past could tarnish its chances of getting the Games. "My guess is that China wanted to make very, very sure that there will be no positive tests at Sydney," Nils Lindstedt, chief China representative for the anti-doping group, International Doping Tests and Management, told TIME Asia. "They can't afford any more bad press."

Just last week, I.O.C. officials approved a blood and urine test that will be used for the first time at the Sydney Olympics to test for EPO, a substance that can improve endurance by up to 15%. China, fourth in the Olympic medal tally at Atlanta, is particularly strong in endurance sports like rowing, canoeing, long- distance running and swimming.

Some sports analysts are speculating that the banned athletes may have tested positive for EPO earlier this year, and that China was hoping the substances would work their way through their bodies before the games started.