NEWS
08/05/2011 03:25 EDT | Updated 10/04/2011 05:12 EDT

China expels 4-time Olympic gold medallist Wang Meng from speed skating team for drunken brawl

BEIJING, China - China's most decorated Winter Olympic athlete has been expelled from the national team for a drunken brawl with an official, throwing the successful short track speed skating program into disarray.

Wang Meng went out drinking and failed to return to the team hotel before a curfew, China's sports governing body said in a statement released late Thursday. When she was confronted by the team manager Wang Chunlu, she punched her, it said.

The 26-year-old Wang was expelled from the national team and banned from international competitions because her conduct "has violated the team's disciplines and jeopardized the sport's image," China's General Administration of Sport said in the statement.

Wang, who won three golds at the Vancouver Games last year, and one gold, a silver and a bronze at Turin, Italy, in 2006, had been suspended since the incident during a summer training camp in the eastern Chinese city of Qingdao on July 24.

China's General Administration of Sport said male speed skater Liu Xianwei also assaulted the team manager and damaged hotel property, and had also been expelled.

The other four squad members — Zhou Yang, Liu Qiuhong, Han Jialiang and Liang Wenhao — were allowed to keep training with the national team.

China's Xinhua news agency reported that Wang accidentally cut her hands on glass and needed dozens of stitches after the incident.

In a video posted on the website of China News Service, an angry Wang, her arms in bandages, was shown amid a throng of reporters at the Winter Sports Management Center on Thursday night.

It was unclear what she had been asked, but Wang was shown insisting that she be quoted verbatim on TV and threatening to hold a news conference if she wasn't quoted in full.

"Can you not report the voice from the heart of an ordinary person?" she said. "I am no longer an athlete. I have been expelled."

State-run broadcaster CCTV later showed Wang apologizing to reporters. "This event, in any case, has caused negative effects to society," she said. "I ought to apologize to the Chinese people. So many skating lovers like me and support me. What I did was wrong."

Wang is a product of China's highly competitive sports system where promising athletes are intensively trained from a young age in government-run sports schools.

Zhou Yang got in trouble last year for failing to thank her country and the Chinese government after her gold medal win at the Vancouver Olympics. Instead, she thanked her coach and teammates and said she would "help my parents have a better life."

Li Yan, chief coach of China's short track skating team, told CCTV that expelling Wang doesn't solve deeper problems within the squad.

"In one year, the Chinese short-track skating team, having performed so well and gained four Olympic medals and great success, has turned into a negative example. It definitely needs deep reflection," she said.

Xinhua said Wang is famous for her fiery temper and it is not the first time she has landed herself in trouble.

She was expelled from the national team for six months in 2007 after criticizing her coach's tactics at the Asian Winter Games, Xinhua said.