NAGANO, Japan (AP) _ The International Olympic Committee says it could strip medals from some former East German athletes if there is proof they used performance-enhancing drugs.

At the same time, the IOC absolved China of systematic doping allegations, with one top official dismissing the outcry over recent Chinese drug scandals as ``a lot of noise about nothing.''

The IOC executive board Saturday opened the way for athletes to contest decades-old Olympic results, including those involving East German champions of the 1970s and 1980s.

While ruling out a wholesale stripping of East German medals, IOC officials said they were willing to investigate individual cases.

``The general trend is not to rewrite history, but there may be some specific cases (which can be revised),'' IOC director general Francois Carrard said.

The IOC had been expected to approve a new rule that all challenges to Olympic results must be made within three years after the games and settled by the time the next games begin.

But the executive board said it needed more time to study the issue, taking into account further evidence of systematic doping in East Germany.

``While history has been written once, we felt it was appropriate to devote more time to determine whether history should be rewritten,'' Carrard said.

Carrard said the proposed three-year limit did not take into account cases in which athletes find out later that they may have been cheated out of medals. That's the case today as more evidence emerges of widespread East German doping dating back 15-20 years.

Several Western athletes and coaches have urged the IOC to strip medals from East Germans who have been identified as drug users.

But Thomas Bach, an IOC executive board member from Germany, said it was ``out of the question'' to revoke all the medals won by East Germans.

``We can only treat individual cases with individual judgments,'' he said.

Carrard said the British Olympic Association petitioned the IOC recently on behalf of swimmer Nick Gillingham, who finished fourth in the 200-meter breastroke final at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

Gillingham is seeking the bronze medal that went to Russia's Andrei Korneyev. The Russian initially was disqualified and stripped of his medal after testing positive for the drug bromantan. But Korneyev later was reinstated and given back the medal after an arbitration panel ruled there was insufficient evidence that bromantan was a performance-enhancing stimulant.

Since then, bromantan has been offically added to the IOC's list of banned substances.

Carrard said the IOC would study Gillingham's appeal and forward the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

The IOC also discussed the drug scandals involving Chinese swimmers at the recent World Championships in Perth, Australia. One swimmer and her coach were caught carrying banned human growth hormones into the country, while four other swimmers tested positive for another banned substance.

Carrard said Chinese executive board member He Zhenliang expressed his country's ``shock and outrage'' over the drug cases but dismissed any accusations that China had a systematic doping program similar to East Germany.

China, whose women swimmers have emerged as a powerful force this decade, has recorded 27 positive drug tests in swimming since 1990 _ more than all other countries combined.

``China's international standing does not depend upon medals,'' He said. ``We do not want these medals to be tarnished by doping.''

He said Chinese officials were investigating the doping cases.

Carrard said the IOC executive board ``reaffirmed full confidence in Chinese sports authorities to settle these problems and deal with them in the most appropriate way.''

The IOC's top anti-doping official said the controversy has been overblown.

``There were only five cases,'' Prince Alexandre de Merode said. ``People are making this into a real drama and an affair of state. The cases only prove the (drug-testing) lab works. Nothing more. We musn't exaggerate things. It's a lot of noise about nothing.''