ATHLETICS: It's all right Ma, we're only losing

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Ma Junren, China's leading athletics coach, has offered an explanation for the performance of his estranged band of runners in the Peking marathon relay last weekend.

A six-woman team, led by Wang Junxia, the 3,000 metres and 10,000m world record holder, finished only fifth in Saturday's Ekiden road race, an event they had won for the past two years under Ma's guidance.

Ma, who has been in hospital since early January, criticised new training methods adopted by the team in his absence and derided attempts to recreate his "secret potion", which has turtle blood as a key ingredient.

"The team members haven't understood my training methods," he said. "They failed to control their daily training runs, causing seven runners to collapse in the space of a month."

Following a rift between the coach and his runners, amid allegations that he had pocketed winnings, Wang took over temporarily as team trainer.

Ma also laughed at attempts to recreate his potion. "They only know one part of my method," he said. "They don't know it all." Two runners had even fallen ill after being given too heavy a dosage, he said.

According to newspaper reports, some spectators lining the route on Saturday had jeered at the runners, telling them to "go back to Ma."