PARIS(AFP) - The IAAF confirmed on Friday that it had asked the Chinese Athletics Association to look into a letter claiming there had been a systematic doping programme under the infamous Ma Junren, who coached China's "Ma's Army" of runners.
Chinese web portal Sina on Wednesday published what it said was a letter signed in 1995 by 3,000m and 10,000m world record-holder Wang Junxia and nine other former athletes of Ma's, saying the coach had forcibly doped them.
Ma's glory days were capped when Wang won the women's 5,000m gold at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics to add to her 10,000m world crown.
The other signatories included Zhang Linli, who briefly held the world 3,000m record, and 1993 1,500m world champion Liu Dong.
"It is absolutely true that Ma forced us to take large doses of illegal drugs," Sina cited the letter as saying. It did not specify which drugs were involved.
"We were sad when we revealed this to you, and seriously worried that might impair China's reputation, as well as it might devalue the gold medals we won," the letter said.
"But we must disclose these criminal behaviours because we don't want the same things happen to the next generation".
The letter was addressed to Chinese reporter Zhao Yu, who published a book titled An Investigation of Ma's Army in 1997.
According to state television broadcaster CCTV, the doping allegations were not in the original edition but the book was republished last year with them included.
Ma stepped up his alleged doping regime after 1991, CCTV cited the latest edition as saying, adding that some athletes complained of side effects such as husky voices and liver problems, but "they would never escape injection from coach Ma".
Zhao declined to comment further to AFP on Friday, saying: "An author speaks through his books."
Phone calls to China's Athletics Association went unanswered on Friday, the eve of the national Lunar New Year Holiday. And the athletes said to have signed the letter could not immediately be reached.
The IAAF said on Friday that its "first action must be to verify that the letter is genuine".
"In this respect, the IAAF has asked the ChineseAthletics Association to assist it in that process," the world athletics' governing body said in a statement.
The IAAF underlined that under its competition rules, "if anyone makes an admission of guilt, the IAAF can take action: If an athlete has admitted that, at some time prior to achieving a World Record, he had used or taken advantage of a substance or technique prohibited at that time, then, subject to the advice of the Medical and Anti-Doping Commission, such record will not continue to be regarded as a World Record by the IAAF".
Wang knocked 42 seconds off the previous best when setting the 10,000m world record of 29min 31.78sec at the Chinese National Games in September 1993. Five days later at the same meeting, she ran 8min 06.11sec for a new 3,000m world record.