The World Swimming Championships, scheduled to start in Perth, Australia, this weekend, were doused by controversy yesterday. Part of it involved statements by American star Matt Biondi and the other part suggestions of drug use by the Chinese team.
Biondi, winner of five gold medals at the 1988 Olympics, was quoted in Australian newspapers as saying U.S. Swimming Federation officials are holding the sport back with their financial restrictions on top athletes.
"The current administration is pushing the sport back into the 1960s and '70s," Biondi said. "They treat us like high school and college kids. It's very disappointing."
Biondi, the defending world champion in the 100-meter freestyle, said other countries were doing much more than the United States to help their swimmers meet training and living expenses.
"The administration tells us that we should swim for our country," he said. "They say it is okay for us to receive only a plane ticket and a bottle of shampoo. . . . It's time that U.S. swimming administrators brought the sport up to the rest of the world."
Meanwhile, Canadian Coach Dave Johnson raised the question as to whether recent improvements by Chinese swimmers are due to drugs. "Whether or not the standard was attained by hard work or drug-induced, we've got to find out," Johnson said. "People are asking how they can improve so quickly. Someone has to ask the Chinese."
China's swimming program has blossomed in the last few years, particularly in the women's events. When competition starts Sunday, China will have the top-ranked swimmers in five women's events.
The Canadian coach said international swimming officials could not afford to ignore rumors of drug use by Chinese athletes, especially in light of recent reports of widespread use of illegal performance enhancers by East German athletes.
"We have to be more aggressive," he said. "For 15 years we all knew something had to be going on for the East Germans to be swimming the times they did, but nothing was done."
Johnson said he based his suspicions on an incident at an unidentified North American meet two years ago, at which Chinese swimmers refused to undergo drug tests because they had not received prior notification.
Chinese officials were unavailable for comment on Johnson's remarks.
Other coaches, however, criticized Johnson for making charges without hard evidence. "To just blatantly accuse them of cheating, based on uninformed comment, is witch-hunting," said Australian Coach Don Talbot. "It's something out of the Dark Ages."