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DUBLIN (Reuters) - It would be a hollow victory for Sonia O'Sullivan if she became a double world champion 23 years after losing to Chinese athletes being probed for systematic doping, the former Irish distance runner said on Friday.
The IAAF ruling body said earlier that it would investigate the authenticity of a letter signed by 10 Chinese athletes that says an Olympic coach from their country ran a systematic doping program up to the mid-1990s.
O'Sullivan, one of Ireland's most successful and celebrated track and field competitors, was beaten into fourth place in the 3,000 meters final and second in the 1,500 meters at the 1993 world championship by Chinese medal winners.
Gold, silver and bronze medals awarded in that era could be re-assigned if it is proved that an athlete took an illegal substance.
"It won't make a difference now," O'Sullivan told national broadcaster RTE. "It probably would have back then.
"As a double world champion, as a world record holder, which I also would have been because I would have had the world record in 1994 for the 3,000 meters and I would have had it for eight years, your profile and status would have been huge."
O'Sullivan, who went on to win world championship gold two years later, said she and her fellow competitors did not know what to think when the Chinese athletes "came out of nowhere" in 1993.
She was favorite for both races but remembers as "the most mind-boggling, strange thing ever" China's Wang Junxia and her team mates blowing everyone away in the 10,000 meters.
"Why did it take so long for it to be okay for people to talk about athletes cheating and to go after them when there's a little bit of a hint that somebody is doing something that's not quite right?", O'Sullivan said.
"I don't think that was carried out a lot in the 90s and a lot of stuff was definitely hidden. The system was set up to protect athletes that were cheating more than it was to protect clean athletes."
The allegations in the letter, which Reuters could not independently verify, come as the former head of world athletics Lamine Diack is under investigation by French authorities for corruption.
"If the truth comes out, just knowing that what you thought was unbelievable and not possible, that you were right. You know when something is extraordinary but it's amazing how much it takes to prove that," O'Sullivan said.
Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Tony Jimenez