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Reports: Chinese swimmers failed doping tests ahead of Tokyo Olympics

The flag of China and the Olympic flag flutter on their masts during the closing ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games at the Bird's Nest National Stadium. Twenty-three Chinese swimmers failed doping tests for the same banned substance ahead of the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 but several of them competed there after not being sanctioned by their country or international authorities. Michael Kappeler/dpa

Twenty-three Chinese swimmers failed doping tests for the same banned substance ahead of the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 but several of them competed there after not being sanctioned by their country or international authorities.

German broadcasters ARD, the New York Times and Australian paper Daily Telegraph said that the governing body World Aquatics, then FINA, and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) were satisfied with the Chinese explanation of contaminated food.

ARD Sportschau said that its investigation together with the New York Times revealed that the swimmers tested positive for the banned heart medication trimetazidine at a domestic competition in Shijiazhuang in early 2021.

The reports said that China's anti-doping agency reported the cases to FINA and WADA.

No sanctions were imposed because the positive tests were deemed to come from contamination as China said its investigators found traces of trimetazidine in various areas of the kitchen were the meals for the athletes had been prepared.

The swimmers were cleared to continue competing in June 2021 and the case never became public. A 30-strong Chinese team, including 13 of the 23 with positive tests, went on to win six medals in Tokyo, including three gold medals.

World Aquatics told the Daily Telegraph that the case was "subject to independent expert scrutiny" and that it was confident the issue was "handled diligently and professionally, and in accordance with all applicable anti-doping regulations, including the World Anti-Doping Code.”

WADA director Olivier Rabin said they also investigated, including via the manufacturer of trimetazidine, and concluded "there was no concrete basis to challenge the asserted contamination."

He spoke of a "combination of the consistently low concentrations of TMZ as well as no doping pattern with several athletes presenting multiple samples collected over the course of several days."

There have been other doping cases involving trimetazidine, most notably that of young Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva whose positive test in December 2021 was announced during the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. Valieva was later banned for four years.