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food / travel

Fearing Doping Tests, China Has Banned All 'Foreign' Food For Olympic Athletes

Chinese athletes won't be able to explore any of London's many global cuisines, or even eat the special food prepared at the Olympic Village. Just internal, government-approved grub. Why? Fears that banned substances might slip into thei

In 2008, the Chinese team played host (MrENil)
In 2008, the Chinese team played host (MrENil)
Yang Wang

Because of my work, I often have lunch meetings with athletes. Most of the time, they are most willing to sit down to talk to me over a meal -- but not recently.

"We are not allowed to eat outside of the training center cafeteria anymore. Otherwise we could be thrown out of the team!" one athlete from China's swimming team told me in an anxious tone.

Earlier this year, China's General Administration of Sports issued a document to all of China's sports teams prohibiting the eating of any pork, beef or lamb, except for the meat provided from known safe sources at the athletes' training bases.

China's has had countless serious issues with food in recent years. In the sports sector where doping is a particular concern, it's no wonder that China's sports authority keeps a very close eye on what the members of its national teams put in their mouths.

Before the 2008 Olympics held in Beijing, the Chinese swimmer Ouyang Kunpeng received a lifetime ban from competition. The unfortunate athlete was believed to have eaten barbecue at a roadside stall and thus had a serious blood level of Clenbuterol, a lean meat agent which is also a performance enhancing drug.

Again in August 2010, the German table tennis star Dimitrij Ovtcharov tested positive for Clenbuterol in a routine examination. He suspected that the meat he had eaten a week earlier in Suzhou during the China Open must have contained this banned substance.

As a result, the anti-doping organizations in France and Germany have exhorted their athletes not to eat any meat products coming from China in order to avoid getting a positive score in a doping test.

According to China's national quarantine department, before it can be cooked for the national teams, all meat is stored away in refrigerators after having been through China's national anti-doping agency's testing. In addition, each test requires three samples, two of them will be conserved as long as eight months until after the closure of the Olympic Games.

Judo masters and their pigs

Except for the astronauts of the Shengzhou 9 space craft, no supply of food is safer than the ones specially provided for the Chinese national teams.

In it for the long haul, the Chinese marathon team eats chickens that they've raised themselves. The judo team in Tianjin keeps an armlock on their meat supply by keeping their own pigs.

The Vice-Director for security of the National Aquatic Centre revealed that all 196 swimmers of the national team were obliged to stop eating any meat for 40 days around February this year simply because of a lack of any source of qualified meat.

The family of Liu Xiang, China's best 110 meter hurdler, told me that Liu hasn't had pork for years.

Last week, China came fifth in the World Grand Prix Finals of women's volleyball. Yu Juemin, the national team's coach attributed the poor performance to the fact that "the team hasn't had any meat for three weeks. The impact of this diet on their nutrition has affected the physical force of the players… "

China's sports teams' attitude towards food also reflects the mindset that only a gold medal is worth having, while the efforts put into meat control can be used to promote nationwide health campaigns, marketing of sports, or other good cause.

At the upcoming Olympics in London as many as 600 international chefs are said to be working to come up with all variety of delicacies to satisfy the best sports men and women of the world.

It will be a great shame for the Chinese teams, who are supposed to stick to their own cooks, not to enjoy the Chinese food that would have been prepared specially to cater to them. Most of all, they should get out of their dormitories and have some fun with other athletes from all over the world.

After all, it is only a game.

The author is a sports columnist

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