2 May 2024

World champion Clareburt hopes China doping case won't dominate Paris

6:31 am on 2 May 2024
Lewis Clareburt of New Zealand in action.

Lewis Clareburt of New Zealand in action. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

New Zealand's world champion swimmer Lewis Clareburt hopes his second Olympics will be remembered for the action in the pool rather than rancour over a Chinese doping case that has dominated in the leadup to the Paris Games.

Clareburt will bid for a first Olympic medal to add to his 400-metre individual medley world title when he swims the event, along with the 200m IM and 200m butterfly.

Like many top swimmers, Clareburt was shocked by revelations 23 Chinese athletes tested positive for the same banned substance ahead of the Tokyo Games in 2021, then cleared of wrongdoing by a Chinese investigation.

Clareburt said he hoped sport would remain the focus in the pool at the 26 July - 11 August Olympics.

"It may distract the world and there may be a protest, I'm not too sure, but it definitely does suck that this has come out right before the Olympics because this is distracting people from the actual point of the Olympics," the 24-year-old said.

"We're here to race and showcase our sport and showcase the world coming together."

New Zealand swimmer Lewis Clareburt

New Zealand swimmer Lewis Clareburt Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The World Anti-Doping Agency, which initially accepted China's finding in 2021, launched an independent review of the case last week amid pressure from athletes and national anti-doping authorities.

WADA vigourously defended its initial handling of the case and said it had no evidence to question China's finding that the swimmers were inadvertently contaminated by the drug trimedazidine, a heart medication, traces of which were found in the kitchen of their hotel.

The global doping body also accepted China's decision not to publicly disclose the case. China's anti-doping authority dismissed criticism of its programme as fake news.

While the WADA review may have exonerated the swimmers and China's anti-doping programme, some athletes might struggle to overcome scepticism, said Clareburt.

"I feel it may have tarnished their reputation. Do we trust that they're doing their best for us?" he asked. "Maybe some athletes will feel uneasy about how it's happened."

"If the pending review comes back and shows the processes have been followed as normal then, as athletes, the only thing we can do is trust that."

Doping-related concerns have previously cast a cloud over major sporting events.

It marred the 2019 swimming world championships in Gwangju, where Australia's Mack Horton refused to mount a medal podium with Chinese swimmer Sun Yang.

Triple Olympic champion Sun had served a three-month suspension in 2014 for testing positive for TMZ and was banned for eight years in 2020 for another doping offence, halved to four years on appeal.

Clareburt was focused more on being in top shape for his Olympic tilt than the loopholes of the world anti-doping code.

Still, those charged with protecting fair sport could take another look at anti-doping processes, he said, and make all countries come clean about their athletes' test results regardless of their culpability or innocence.

"From the perspective of a New Zealand athlete who gets tested often, we know that if we come back with a positive, our name is going to be on a website saying that this person has been banned," he said.

"We all signed up to the same (anti-doping) rules so we should be treated equally and fairly."


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