Swimming: China under threat of four-year ban

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China faces the possibility of being banned from all international competition after yesterday's announcement that four of their swimmers had failed drug tests taken last week, prior to the World Championships here.

Fina, the sport's governing body, can ban a nation from competition for up to four years if four of their swimmers fail drug tests in a 12-month period.

The revelation overshadowed the anticipated statement from Fina that Yuan Yuan, the swimmer sent home to China after customs officers found human growth hormone in her suitcase, had been banned for four years. Her coach, Zhou Zhewen, was given a 15-year ban.

Every Chinese swimmer was tested on arrival in Australia, with members of the women's team, Wang Luna, Cai Huijue, Zhang Yi, and a male swimmer, Wang Wei, showing traces of triamterene, a diuretic which can be used to mask steroid use. The four have been suspended until the results of the `B' test are known and will take no further part in the championships.

A Danish pharmaceutical group said yesterday it produced the human growth hormone found by the Customs officers. Novo Nordisk said it sold Norditropin to a Chinese state-owned import company and that it was intended, as far as was known, for hospitals in China.

In the pool, Alexander Popov, the Russian who survived a knife attack in a Moscow street 15 months ago, retained his world 100m freestyle title, in the process beating the Australian double gold medallist, Michael Klim, and breaking his own championship record.

There were no medals for Britain, with James Hickman and Stephen Parry finishing fifth and sixth, respectively, in the 200m butterfly, but the women's 4x100m freestyle squad did break the British record.

Hickman, the world short- course champion, swam a powerful first half but slipped off the pace on the third length, dropping from third to sixth. The Stockport Metros swimmer fought back to beat the Florida-based Parry for fifth place but his time of 1min 58.76sec was 0.6sec outside his British record. The Ukraine's Denis Silantiev snatched gold in the final metres from European champion, Franck Esposito of France.

The women's freestyle quartet could not match the men's 4x200m bronze medal from the day before, but they did emulate the record breaking run. Led off by Sue Rolph, who left Britain third at the first change-over, and with a fine swim from Melanie Marshall, they sliced 0.22sec of the national record in clocking 3:45.30 to finished seventh behind the victorious US squad.