Asian Games: Ma arrives as courteous hero

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

MA JUNREN, China's flamboyant coach, arrived at the Asian Games yesterday, causing the media to flock to the man behind world-record performances by China's women middle-distance runners.

Accompanied by cases of his secret elixir of turtle blood and other mystery ingredients, the leader of 'Ma's Army' behaved in a way befitting a conquering hero.

He graciously accepted bouquets of flowers thrust into his hands at Hiroshima airport, but still found time to escort his women runners courteously to their seats in a bus.

Dressed in slacks, a white shirt with red tie and a dark blazer, Ma smiled throughout his arrival and showed the battering which he has received from some Western journalists over accusations that drugs were behind his runners' record efforts had not soured his relations with the press.

However, he cautioned journalists not to expect too much from his squad when they run next week in the Games.

'I expect the runners to be running at about 90 per cent of their capacity,' Ma said as he poked his head out of the bus window to speak to reporters. 'They are currently in their rebuilding stage, They are training to peak in 1996 for the Olympics.

'Still I am confident of winning four to five gold medals.'

'Ma's Army' reached dizzying heights in 1993 when two of his top runners, Wang Junxia and Qu Yunxia, broke three world records at their national championships.

Wang shattered the Norwegian Ingrid Kristiansen's seven year-old 10,000 metre record by 42 seconds and was equally dominant in breaking the 3,000m world record. Qu set an equally dramatic world mark in the 1500m.

The startling performances set off rumours of drugs which have dogged 'Ma's Army' since, even though they have been vigorously denied.

Only a week ago there were surprise drug tests carried out on Ma's athletes in China by the International Amateur Athletic Federation. .

Both Wang and Qu, fittingly dutiful, shied away from the celebrity status showered on the 49-year-old Ma at the airport. However, he gathered his two talents around him so the trio could be photographed.

Also present in the group was Mu Guowei, the most favoured of Ma's four male runners at the games, whose abilities are eagerly awaited to see if Ma can work the same transformation for a man.

It is the first time for nearly a year that Ma has presented his small squad of men athletes in public.