Athletics: Ma reveals his squad's operations: Chinese coach says 11 of his record-breaking team had appendixes removed

THE Chinese coach Ma Junren revealed yesterday that 11 of his long- distance runners had their appendixes removed last year.

Ma's disclosure of the operations, which affect more than half of his squad, was the first detailed account of the reasons for their dramatic loss of form after a world record-breaking romp late last year.

It also adds to the mystique which has swirled around the team since their abrupt withdrawal from this year's grand prix circuit and departure from the public eye.

'We had to stop training last year because we were getting sick. We were having toxicological problems and that is why we are running slower times,' Ma said. 'Eleven of Ma's Family Army members had to have their appendices removed and they needed to recover from their operations.'

Ma, famed for feeding his squad of around 20 athletes potions of turtle's blood and Chinese herbs, did not elaborate on the causes of poisoning.

Leading sports doctors reacted with amazement to the mass appendix removal. 'It is remarkable because it is a very high frequency for a very small group of athletes in a very limited time span. It sounds astonishing,' said Arne Ljungqvist, the chairman of the medical commission of the International Amateur Athletics Federation, track and field's world governing body.

The Japanese team doctor Ichiro Kono said he believed there were 'rare' cases when intense training provoked appendicitis. 'According to some research, in very rare cases a highly active person undergoing intense training can provoke appendicitis,' Kono said.

Ma's women have baffled doctors, observers and critics alike since bursting into the spotlight at the World Championships in Stuttgart in August last year, and reaping a crop of golds.

The following month, Wang Junxia, one of the runners revealed to have had her appendix out, went on to lop an astonishing 42 seconds off the 10,000 metres world record at the Chinese championships. Her time was 29min 31.78sec.

Ma's record of stunning results have drawn criticism from Western coaches who accused him of using banned substances to improve performances, allegations strongly denied by the coach who says they are the result of advanced training methods.

However, Ljungqvist again leapt to Ma's defence, saying there was still no evidence of doping. 'I am totally against these unfounded allegations,' he said.

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