Chinese coach pays up

Reuters, Jun 19, 2007-

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese athletics coach Wang Dexian has paid an undisclosed sum in compensation to three distance runners who sued him for withholding winnings and grants over an eight-year period, local media reported on Tuesday.

The fraud case brought last September by 1999 Beijing Marathon winner Ai Dongmei and her former training partners Guo Ping and Li Juan was settled by mediation at a court in Beijing on Monday, the Web site reported.

(photo: Ms. Ai Dongmei and her medals)

“I took the money, but to tell the truth I’m not very happy, said Ai. “I still feel sad and tired after such a long time. Anyhow, it is significant for us to get our own money.”

As next year’s Beijing Olympics approach, the fate of former Chinese sports champions who have fallen on hard times has become a regular feature of local media reports.

The athletes alleged that Wang had offered to look after their bank books because they were too young to do so themselves.

When the books were returned, they said, a significant amount of cash was missing.

Ai put all 16 of her athletics medals up for sale earlier this year to fund the case, and has been selling popcorn and children’s clothes on the streets to make ends meet.

The 26-year-old mother of one said she would not be pursuing the case any further for patriotic reasons.

“A friend of mine said, ‘the 2008 Olympic Games is coming close. The longer your case lasts the bigger damage it will do on the nation. You’d better let it go as long as you get the money back, in this way it may not harm the country that much’,” she said.

“I refused to speak to foreign media … but what could I do? … I didn’t want to wash our dirty laundry in the foreign media,” Ai added.

Wang was banned from coaching for life by Chinese sports authorities after another of his charges, Sun Yingjie, tested positive for the steroid androsterone at the 2005 National Games.

Sun, who won the Beijing Marathon three times, later claimed Wang had regularly beaten her.