SYDNEY - Chinese Olympians were subjected to a state-sponsored doping regime in the 1980s and 1990s, a retired chief medical supervisor revealed to Australian media on Friday.
Xue Yinxian, the former chief doctor for the Chinese gymnastics team in the 1980s, said steroids and human growth hormones were officially treated as part of "scientific training" as the country emerged as a sporting power.
"It was rampant in the 1980s," she told the Sydney Morning Herald. "One had to accept it."
Xue said athletes often did not know what they were being injected with and medical staff who refused to participate were marginalised.
The newspaper said it was the first time anyone in the system had publicly contradicted Beijing's line that a host of embarrassing doping busts in the 1990s was the result of ambitious individual athletes and coaches.
Beijing has insisted it has cleaned up its act since the 1994 world swimming championships when China performed beyond expectations to win 12 gold medals amid widespread suspicions of doping.
Later that year, seven swimmers tested positive for steroids at the Hiroshima Asian Games, which left the squad so decimated that it won only one swimming gold at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
The decline was only temporary and by 1998 China was back -- until four more positive tests and the discovery of human growth hormone in a swimmer's luggage at that year's world championships in Perth, Australia.
Cyclists and weightlifters also frequently tested positive for banned substances at international events.
Xue said she fought a losing battle against the systematic use of drugs at the time.
She told the Herald that the country's top sports official told a meeting in October 1978 that performance-enhancing drugs were simply new things that should be utilised, provided they were properly understood.
"He gave the example of how a woman could use tampons to continue training while having her period," she said.
"And so it was with human growth hormones, which he described as a scientific training method. Whoever rejected them would face punishment or criticism."
Ahead of the London Olympics, which start on Friday, Chinese state media said all athletes and coaches were required to take an oath before the nation's flag and vow to remain clean.
In the lead-up, many Chinese athletes have been avoiding meat out of fears that domestic pork, beef and lamb could contain substances such as clenbuterol which has been used to raise Chinese livestock and is a banned anabolic agent.
At least 196 competitors under China's National Aquatics Centre, which governs swimming, diving and other water sports, have been off meat for weeks ahead of the Games, the Yangtze Evening News reported.