- Yang Fangxu, who helped China clinch gold at 2016 Rio Olympics, tests positive for EPO
- She pulled out of the 2018 Asian Games days after her out-of-competition testing result
Chinese volleyball has been hit by a major doping scandal ahead of next year's Tokyo Olympics with women's team player Yang Fangxu banned for four years for testing positive for banned substances.
Yang, a member of the gold medal winning team at the 2016 Rio Olympics, tested positive for erythropoietin (EPO), which stimulates the growth of oxygen-carrying red blood cells in the body, and has been suspended since August last year, just before the 2018 Asian Games.
Her case was not reported by the Chinese Anti-Doping Agency (Cada) until Tuesday when it stated Yang tested positive during an out-of-competition test and would be banned until September 2022. The player also has to bear the cost of the test.
No official statement has been made on Yang from the Chinese Volleyball Association but the revelation of her ban has tarnished the reputation of the team who booked their ticket to next year's Tokyo Olympics through their victory in a qualification tournament in Zhejiang 10 days ago.
Women's volleyball enjoys a high reputation among other Chinese sports, especially as they are a team who have clinched three Olympic gold medals since 1984.
Chinese netizens were surprised by Yang's suspension, particularly as EPO is rarely seen among volleyball players. The drug is mainly used by endurance athletes such as distance runners or road-race cyclists. Some commenters also said they pitied her and acknowledged her contribution to the team's success.
Born in Shandong province in 1994, Yang, 24, is a specialist in reception. At 1.9 metres, she entered the national youth squad along with star player Zhu Ting, also 24, and both were later promoted to the senior squad.
Yang was a member of the team that won a silver medal at the 2014 world championships before representing China at the Rio Olympics and played in the final against Serbia which China won 3-1.
She was in the 14-member squad for the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia, but did not travel with the team to Jakarta. Coach Lang Ping hinted at the time that her charge was suffering from injuries. However, Tuesday's Cada statement said Yang failed the doping test on August 11, 2018, just a week before the start of the Asian Games volleyball event. Apparently, the team were informed of the dope-test result before the decision was made to drop the player.
Mainland reports said Yang had cleared her Weibo social media site and had not been seen in public since last year. A friend of Yang said the player had been planning to retire anyway after her absence from last year's Asia Games because of chronic injuries.
The last time a Chinese volleyball player was found guilty of doping was in 1992 when Wu Dan tested positive for the banned substance strychnine at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games.
Wu was kicked out of the Games but received no further punishment. She represented China again at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
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