It is difficult to determine whether Chinese female distance runners startled the track and field world more in 1993 for their performances--three gold medals in the World Championships, three world records--or for the concoction they drank before workouts. Their controversial coach, Ma Junren, said that the recipe included turtle blood and caterpillar fungus.
Rivals suggested that the Chinese women had ingested more potent substances, such as banned anabolic steroids and stimulants.
Unlike Chinese female swimmers, accused of similar nefarious chemical help, none of the country's runners have tested positive. But Ma's Army, torn by dissension, is not likely to stage a siege in Atlanta as it did in Stuttgart, Germany, three years ago.
The only one expected to medal in the upcoming Summer Olympics is Wang Junxia, who is Ma's most notable defector. Disgruntled because the coach withheld money she was supposed to receive for her performances, and even for a while the luxury car she earned with her world championship in the 10,000 meters, she left in 1994 for another coach.
Continuing to thrive, Wang, 23, has the fastest time in the world this year in the 10,000 and the sixth-fastest in the 5,000.
One world champion from 1993, Qu Yunxia in the 3,000, has remained with Ma. Another, Liu Dong, left and then returned. But they have not been impressive this year and might not compete in Atlanta.
His most promising young runner, 15-year-old Jiang Bo, was expected to challenge Wang in the 5,000 at the national championships in May but dropped out midway through the final. In a bizarre scene, Jiang, tears running down her cheeks, moved to the outside lane and ran for several laps in the opposite direction.
The Chinese were not factors in last summer's World Championships in Goteborg, Sweden, entering one woman in the 5,000 meters and another in the 10,000. Neither advanced to the final.
Meantime, Ma has been hospitalized in the Beijing No. 3 People's Hospital off and on in recent months. He reportedly suffers from ulcers.