Lan on track for comeback after doping ban

September 10, 2023 - 08:59
Runner Quách Thị Lan has been in the last months of an 18-month ban after tested positive for a banned drug at the 31st SEA Games in 2022. The runner promised to return better and stronger by the end of this year.


Quách Thị Lan (right) seen running in the 31st SEA Games' women's 400m hurdles in 2022 in Hà Nội. She won, but was stripped of gold because of positive doping test result. VNA/VNS Photo

Thanh Hà

Quách Thị Lan breathed a sigh of relief when she heard the final decision on her 18-month doping ban, ending a period of waiting, nerves, sadness and worry.

Lan has returned to her home town in Thanh Hóa Province and is putting all of her effort into training. She is working hard, waiting for the day she can return to competition and vie for medals again.

"It is so bitter and painful seeing teammates preparing for the tournament while I am here, and can't join or do anything to help them," said Lan referring to the 19th Asian Games (ASIAD) next month in China.

Quách Thị Lan (right) shares her happiness with her mother after winning her first-ever SEA Games individual gold medal. However, her title was taken away in a doping ban. — VNA/VNS Photo

At the 18th ASIAD five years ago, organisers informed that Kemi Adekoya of Bahrain was stripped of a 400m hurdles gold medal due to doping. Usually, the second finisher would be pushed to top the podium. Lan was the then silver medallist, but the gold has not been presented to her yet.

Unexpected rest

Lan was one of five Vietnamese athletes found guilty of doping after winning medals from the 31st SEA Games in Việt Nam in 2022.

Doctors confirmed they tested positive for Octodrine, a performance-enhancer that is on the World Anti-Doping Agency's (WADA) list.

Quách Thị Lan won a gold at the 31st SEA Games in Việt Nam in 2022, but later was found guilty of doping. — VNA/VNS Photo

Lan and her teammates claimed that they did not intentionally use the drug, but that it was a functional supplement that the coaches and team's doctors said was safe for runners, granting them permission to use it.

"It was a new kind of supplement and its effects had not been proven. We did not anticipate the risks," Lan said.

"I didn't do intentionally. After a positive test result, I explained and provided a sample of the supplement for testing. I was anxious because if the punishment was too severe, I might not have a chance to return to compete," said Lan who was stripped of her gold in the 400m hurdles and 4x400m relay.

According to Nguyễn Mạnh Hùng, general secretary of the Việt Nam Athletics Federation (VAF), WADA initially proposed a ban of four years for all Vietnamese athletes. But VAF's intercession and athletes' explanation persuaded WADA officials to be lenient, leading to much lighter bans. Lan was banned for 18 months, and is allowed to run again from mid-November.

While waiting for the final decision, she thought she would be banned for four years. She would be 31 when it ended. And at that age, she might not be able to reach her best and have to retire.

"I was shocked when testing positive, and at the proposed ban. It was so upset being at home when my teammates competed in the 32nd SEA Games in Cambodia. I closed myself off and had a long period of unexpected rest," she said.

Quách Thị Lan (right) seen running in the Tokyo Olympic Games in July, 2021. She was the best athlete of Việt Nam at this competition after winning a berth in the semi-finals of the women's 400m hurdles. AFP/VNA Photo

“The incident made me think a lot. Luckily, I had my family, friends, coaches and teammates by my side. They strongly encouraged and lifted me up. They understand that the doping was an accident. Not only that, but they helped me overcome my difficulties and be positive.”

Back in action

But as a professional athlete, Lan quickly adapted to the new situation. She did not let herself rest completely and kept training.

“As I am not allowed to take part in any events, I practise at low volume and intensity and watch all the competitions carefully. It keeps me motivated and provides reference for me when I can run again," she said.

"I was relieved that I was only banned for only 18 months. It gives me time to prepare my best for a return to the track in the next few months. I will be much stronger and faster," said Lan who successfully entered the semi-finals of the 400m hurdles at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

"I will be 28 in October and still have time for competitions. More importantly, I still love running and don't want to give up yet.

"No one wants to be involved in doping. This scandal is a painful lesson that will stay with me forever. Hopefully, my teammates will learn from my case to prepare themselves and avoid any unexpected incidents," Lan said.

Quách Thị Lan seen practising ahead of her Tokyo Olympic Games. She is now training in her home town of Thanh Hóa, waiting for the return to competition in November. AFP/VNA Photo

General Secretary Hùng believes in his athletes' ability and that the door is open for all potential and talented runners. With their strong determination, they would have the chance to shine again.

"Several doping-banned athletes are back in competition and their achievements are good enough to join the national team again," Hùng said. VNS