North Korea is operating at least two factories that produce performance-enhancing drugs that could be giving a boost to its athletes competing in international competitions like the Olympics, according to a source with ties to the country’s sports education system.
The North Korean Sports Science Research Institute that is affiliated with the North Korean Physical Education Department operates factories in the 2nd dong, Pothong River district and Xicheng district of Pyongyang that produce performance-enhancing supplements, the source told RFA's Korean Service.
“The factories provide specialized dopes for athletes that are labelled as restorative drinks or nutritional supplements,” the source said.
While the government says the supplements contain only nutritional substances, most of the athletes and sports officials know that they contain more than just vitamins, according to the source.
“North Korean authorities say these sports drinks, that are continuously provided to the athletes, include nutritional supplements like vitamins and iron,” the source told RFA. “However, athletes and physical education officials recognize these drugs as dopes.”
The source tells RFA that the supplements provided by the Sports Science Research Institute are based on research material that has generally been collected by what was formerly East Germany along with Russia, Great Britain and other countries that aim to develop athletic enhancement drugs.
While it’s unclear what is in the supplements, the source says it’s made up of a cocktail that includes stimulants, protein anabolic, muscle strengtheners and muscle relaxers.
Injections at the April 25 Sports Club
Athletic enhancement drugs are also produced by the North Korean People’s Army for the April 25 Sports Club.
Named for the date of establishment of guerilla army that is the predecessor for the North Korean Army, the club is known for one of the most successful soccer teams in the country.
“Drugs that are produced in [North Korean] army’s 11th hospital, are injected in athletes in April 25 Sports Club,” the source said.
The drugs are so effective, that rich North Koreans outside of the army are clamoring for them to use for recreational purposes, the source told RFA.
“There are a number of increasing incidents where rich residents are so dazzled by the drugs' ability that they purchase expensive drugs to inject in their bodies,” according to the source.
At least three athletes from the reclusive country have been caught doping in international competition.
A former North Korean athlete who defected overseas told RFA that the country “once produced an aspirin-shaped pill that was provided to athletes. North Korean residents favored these pills because they were produced from their home country.”
Both sources told RFA that North Korean athletes who win international attention are treated as heroes, but athletes who have bad results often face punishment and political re-education.
In October 2013, Kim Jong Un introduced a new policy that allows successful athletes to receive luxury apartments in recognition for their achievements.
Weightlifters Om Yun-chul and Kim Un-guk and judoka An Kum-ae won Olympic medals at the 2012 Summer Olympics, and reportedly were the first athletes rewarded under the policy.
Kim Un-guk of North Korea is among seven athletes who have been provisionally suspended by the International Weightlifting Federation after failing doping tests at the world championships, according to press reports.
Kim set a world record total in the men’s 62kg division, tested positive for the banned substance letrozole, which is classified as a hormone and metabolic modulator.
Reported by Jieun Kim. Translated by Jackie Yoo. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.