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It's Past Time The IAAF Recognised Sonia O'Sullivan As A 3-Time World Champion

It's Past Time The IAAF Recognised Sonia O'Sullivan As A 3-Time World Champion
By Gavin Cooney
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The World Athletics Championships is a competition in which Ireland have won just four gold medals: Rob Heffernan, Olive Loughnane, Sonia O'Sullivan and Eamonn Coghlan are the only Irish athletes to be conferred with the highest honour at the games.

It could - and should - be a larger haul, however. Prior to winning the 5,000m in Gothenburg in 1995, Sonia finished fourth across 3,000m in Stuttgart two years prior and won silver over 1,500 metres. On both occasions, she finished behind unheralded Chinese athletes.   It was controversial at the time, and became coined as "the Chinese takeaway", as all of those athletes ( Qu Yunxia, Zhang Linli and Zhang Lirong in the 3,000m; Liu Dong in the 1,500m) won medals despite a distinct lack of a track record coming into the competition.

Last year, however, reports in China cited a letter written by another Chinese athlete of the time, Wang Junxia and signed by nine of her teammates, which claimed that the athletes were forced to take performance-enhancing drugs as part of a state-sponsored doping system. They claimed they had tried to resist involvement in the programme, but were forced to take part in it.  It had been hoped that O'Sullivan would then be retrospectively awarded the gold medals denied to her as the IAAF announced their intention to pursue the matter, but that has yet to happen.

Last August, Sonia wrote about it in her column in the Irish Times

There was a glimmer of hope in February of 2016 with the admission in a signed letter by the Chinese athletes acknowledging that they were part of a state-run programme that helped to enhance their performances.

It certainly created havoc in the statistics and record books, which still read more like fairytales than credible performances all those years ago.

Over a year later there is still no sign that any communication was ever made between the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and the Chinese athletes, or any follow-up to that mystery letter that was signed by these athletes admitting they had been forced to cheat as part of a state-run system.

It is hard to see if anything will come of it now, 24 years after Stuttgart.


Now, even more damning information has surfaced, which will surely force the IAAF to take action. ARD, the German TV station who has been to the forefront in doping revelations in recent years, have broadcast an interview with Chinese doctor Xue Yinxian, who claims that over 10,000 Chinese athletes in all sports were doping in the 80s and 90s.

Xue claims that doping was compulsory, and feels all medals won by Chinese athletes in that time should be taken away.


If you refused to dope, you had to leave the team. At first, the youth-age group teams used the substances. The youngest were 11 years old. I couldn’t do anything about it.

Medals were tainted by doping – gold, silver and bronze. All international medals should be taken back.

Xue is claiming political asylum in Germany after fleeing Beijing, claiming she felt unsafe after speaking out against doping in 2012.


It's another loaded gun on something that is already widely known. How can the IAAF continue to justify calling these athletes world champions, with such a massive stain beside their name?

It took seven years for Olive Loughnane to be awarded her gold medal from Berlin in 2009, and here's hoping that Sonia will eventually get what is owed to her. Even if it has taken a nearly a quarter of a century.

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