PARIS: International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge says China have moved beyond the belief that athletes must use performance enhancing substances to challenge for world honours.
Only six weeks after China, and their Asian rivals Japan impressed in the final Olympics medals table, Rogge says that both countries have taken steps to make sure their victories are not tinged with doping.
Chinese athletes in the past have come under suspicion for their impressive performances at world and Olympic levels, notably the long distance runners who were coached by Ma Junren in the early 1990s.
China's swimmers have also fallen foul of the sceptics in the past, most notably at the 1994 world championships in Rome.
The Chinese capital of Beijing will host the Games in 2008 and China are expecting to do even better than their 63 medals, including 32 gold, which left them in second place behind the United States after the Athens Olympics.
Athens proved a benchmark for the experts in the fight against doping, and Rogge believes that China are now towing the line.
There was a period, notably at the world athletics championships in Stuttgart in 1993 when the athletes under Ma Junren were not playing fairly. It was the same for their swimmers at the Rome world championships in 1994, he said.
But the Chinese sports authorities, it must be recognised, understood 10 years ago that there was no future in that (doping) strategy.
They took very restrictive measures. Every year a significant number of athletes are punished. There are no longer any compromises.
And Rogge expects the 2008 hosts to go one better.
China are doing really well in a lot of sports that are new to them, he added.
Who would have ever imagined that the women's tennis doubles would be won by Chinese? They're ready for 2008, and it's going to be very difficult for the traditionally strong countries to keep up.
Japan, too, impressed at the Athens Games, finishing fifth with a total of 37 medals including 16 gold.
While Japan have managed to avoid the kind of controversy which Chinese sport has attracted over the past decade, Rogge feels that credit must be given for their professional approach.
I know the kind of preparation that most of the Asian countries undertake, Rogge told Le Journal de Dimanche.
For example, I've visited Japan's high-tech sports facility in Tokyo which is the most sophisticated facility of its kind in the world. It's like the NASA of sport!
I wasn't surprised that they won 37 medals and 15 gold, compared to half of that in Sydney.
Rogge's mistake in counting Japan's gold medals, 15 as compared to the true tally of 16, is down to Japan's relatively late acquisition of a gold in the men's hammer event.
Adrian Annus was stripped of the Olympic gold after refusing to take a drugs test on returning to his native Hungary after it was suspected that he had used someone else's sample for a doping test immediately after winning the hammer title.
Japan's Koji Murofushi, who had finished in second place, was promoted to gold medallist instead.
With new drugs tests catching more and more athletes at this year's Olympics, Rogge feels the IOC is on the right track.
Beforehand, the IOC tested athletes during the competition, at the athletes' village. Now, we also do it randomly and outside the village.
We've extended our field of operation, and our time frame, but have made major advances in the tests we use: EPO (erythropoietin), growth hormones, blood transfusions.
Even though cheating will always exist, and progress in the world of science is used to that effect, Athens was a benchmark for progress on several fronts in the fight against doping. AFP