The nation’s chief doctor for the gymnastic coach in the Eighties, Xue Yinxian, told Australian media the use of chemicals were encouraged as part of “scientific training”.

“It was rampant in the 1980s,” she told the Sydney Morning Herald. “One had to accept it.”

Athletes who did not participate were often ostracised, she said, and those that did take part sometimes had no idea what they were being injected with.

Until now, any incidents of doping busts among Chinese athletes had been blamed on overly ambitious individual athletes and coaches. This is the first time the state has featured in the allegations.

During the 1994 world swimming championships, when China won 12 gold medals, the nation faced suspicions of doping. Later that year seven swimmers tested positive for steroids at the Hiroshima Asian Games.

Then, in 1998, there were four more positive tests and the discovery of human growth hormone in a swimmer’s luggage at the world champs in Perth, Australia.

Cyclists and weightlifters also frequently tested positive for banned substances.

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 meeting1978 that performance-enhancing drugs should be viewed as tools to 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.”

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