Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Korean Police Clear Marathon Coach, Athletes After Finding No Evidence of Doping

http://www.chosunonline.com/news/20110624000017

translated and edited by Brett Larner

Having caused an uproar when the story became public news, police have closed their investigation of allegations of doping among some of Korea's top marathon runners after finding no evidence to support the claims.

On June 23 Kangwon District Police Headquarters' Drug Investigation Unit issued its report on the case, stating, "We investigated the distance running coach of a high school in Kangwon-do, Wonju and several national team-level marathon runners after receiving allegations that they were engaged in the use of illegal performance-enhancing drugs but found nothing to confirm the truth of these charges."

In April police launched an official investigation after receiving information that athletes coached by Shinshu Girls' H.S. track coach Man Hwa Jeong, 51, including Korea's number one marathoner, 2010 Asian Games gold medalist Youngjun Ji, (30, Kolon Co.), had used illegal performance enhancing drugs during training for domestic and overseas races in which they finished on the podium. A police representative said, "The athletes told us, 'We take iron supplements when directed to after regular medical checkups, but that isn't doping.' We seized samples of the iron supplements they received from the hospital and subjected them to scientific analysis but found no traces of any illegal substances. We found no evidence of any criminal activity."

Coming just two months before Korea is set to host the World Championships in Athletics in the city of Daegu, the purported doping scandal has received intense public scrutiny, but with those alleged to have been involved being declared completely innocent, those in the Korean track and field industry are relieved and supportive. Korean federation director Don Jin Oh commented, "We have always been active in taking precautions against our athletes and their support and management personnel using banned substances, whether accidentally or deliberately. With precious time lost due to these baseless allegations we want the athletes to focus a whole year's worth of training energy into these final two months and will do everything we can to support and assist them." Despite this support, the man caught in the middle of the scandal, coach Jeong, has suffered from being publicly viewed as a criminal for the last two months. "The damage to my reputation and the opportunities I've lost have been tremendous," he said. "I can never get that back."

In a telephone interview coach Jeong said, "The spirits of Ji, Son Yon Lee and the other athletes on the national team have been deeply damaged by the unjustified public distrust thrown upon them by this investigation. Lee is considering quitting the sport." The Korean national marathon team had planned to travel to Japan on June 20 to begin a training camp ahead of the World Championships, but due to the problems have moved the departure date back to the 27th. With obvious displeasure Jeong continued, "In order to be well-prepared for the difficulties the athletes will face running in the heat at Worlds I planned to have them undertake their base training in May and June. However, due to all of these problems we've had it was impossible and their training has been completely screwed up. Neither Ji nor Lee have been able to train seriously for the last two months, and as a result they are both in terrible condition."

Coach Jeong believes the situation was caused by a rival group within the Korean athletics industry who sought to discredit and remove him from his position as national marathon coach in order to further themselves, contacting the police with false information and baseless allegations. "This is far more serious than a simple plot," he raged. "It has affected not just the Korean athletics world, but has been a disgrace to Korean society as a whole."

According to Jeong, after initial drug tests by the police to determine whether the athletes were taking banned substances turned up negative, the police shifted their attention to the hospital where the doping was alleged to have occurred and to the blood work done there. When nothing came to light there, they then investigated the iron supplements the athletes were taking. "The athletes receive iron supplements as their bodies require," said Jeong, "but the investigation confirmed that this was not doping and there was nothing suspicious going on. No tests came back positive. I can't understand why people would continue to insist that this completely ordinary treatment is some kind of doping."

Looking at his options for final preparations, Jeong said, "The only thing we can do now is to do what we can to get to the World Championships in good condition. We can only try to do our best." Ji himself remains determined, adding, "I want to prove myself by running the best I can at the World Championships, getting the best place I can with the fastest time I can run.."

Translator's note: Youngjun Ji is scheduled to run this Sunday's Sapporo International Half Marathon.

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