Following veiled accusations from U.S. swim coach John Leonard that Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen had used illicit performance-enhacing drugs to win her record-breaking gold medal on Saturday, many in the industry have risen to her defense. Most notably, the British Olympic Association’s chairman, Lord Colin Moynihan, said Ye had been tested with clean results. From the BBC:
Lord Colin Moynihan said Ye, 16, had passed drug tests, was “clean” and deserved recognition for her talent.
Ye smashed her personal best by at least five seconds in the 400m Medley.
Lord Moynihan told a news conference that the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) was “on top of the game”.
“She’s been through Wada’s programme and she’s clean. That’s the end of the story. Ye Shiwen deserves recognition for her talent,” he said.
The International Olympic Committee spokesman has also defended Ye and said accusations of doping were “crazy.” A blog post on The Least Thing looks at the trajectory of women’s swimming times over the past 50 years and finds nothing out of the ordinary about Ye’s results.
A British swimming coach working with Chinese athletes wrote in the Guardian that results like those reached by Ye were due to hours of hard work put in by the Chinese team:
Chinese athletes train incredibly hard, harder than I can explain in words and as a coach who has placed swimmers on five different Olympic Games teams, I have never seen athletes train like this anywhere in the world.
They have an unrelenting appetite for hard work, can (and will) endure more pain for longer than their western counterparts, will guarantee to turn up for practice every single time and give their all. They are very proud of their country, they are proud to represent China and have a very team focused mentality.
Let’s also not forget that this is their only avenue for income; most do not study and sport offers them a way out or a way up from where they and their families currently live in society. If their swimming fails, they fail and the family loses face.
This is not an attitude shared by athletes in the west, who – generally speaking – come from comfortable homes with average incomes, one or two cars per family and four weeks or more paid holidays per year. Your average Chinese family does not live this way.
Yet some still cautioned skepticism despite the test results. From the New York Daily News:
Gary Wadler, the past chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s prohibited list committee, said questions were fair game considering the circumstances.
“When you have extraordinary performances like she has you have to raise the question, ‘Is it legitimate?’ ” Wadler said.
Charles Yesalis, a retired epidemiologist at Penn State and an expert on performance-enhancing drugs, noted China’s history of doping. The government controls the pharmaceutical industry in China.
He said it does not matter whether or not she tests positive.
“She could be using designer drugs that are not known to the testers.”
“Some suspicion is expected from the West, which typically questions Chinese athletes and tends to be a little arrogant,” said her father, Ye Qingsong, in an interview. He added, “Chinese athletes have been tested and the results will prove [the truth].”
For her part, Ye has continued to go about her business, winning another gold medal and insisting on her innocence to the press. The Guardian profiles Ye and her life as a teenage athlete in China.
Her pink microblog page is a typical teenager’s, with cutesy pictures and a snap of her cuddling a puppy. She enjoys cross stitch – a bafflingly popular hobby among Chinese girls – as well as watching TV and reading detective novels.
In her last message to her 200,000 followers, written not long after that spectacular performance, she observed modestly: “The first day’s competition is finished. The score is satisfactory. Tomorrow, I still have the 200m and will continue to strive. Thank you for your support.”
Her parents’ strategy is clearly working. Zhang Xinming, a Sports Illustrated journalist who has followed Ye’s career closely, said: “Her father, Ye Qingsong, once told me ‘Her mother and I keep our eyes on Shiwen to make sure she stays grounded.'”
In the Telegraph, Brendan O’Neill writes that those who misinterpret Ye’s success are missing a crucial part of the Olympic spirit:
What the people pointing the finger at Ye Shiwen seem not to understand is that there is something about the Olympics that can unleash an individual’s potential to an extraordinary degree. There is something about the prestige of the Games, the expectation of excellence, the elitist (in a good way) Olympian values of “Citius, Altius, Fortius”, which can inspire sportsmen and women to feats that shock even them, never mind the rest of us. Bob Beamon is a good example of this. His 1968 jump was striking not only because it was half a metre longer than anyone had jumped before, and not only because it remained the world record for 23 years (until Mike Powell jumped 8.95m in 1991), but also because Beamon himself never jumped that far again. After jumping 8.90m at the ’68 Olympics, the furthest he ever jumped was 8.22m. There was something about the Olympics itself, about the creative, historic pressure of that once-every-four-years moment of sporting spectacle, which propelled Beamon to superhuman feats (maybe with a little help from the Mexican altitude).
Cast your vote. The Guardian asks: Does Ye Shiwen deserve an apology?
No sooner had the controversy over Ye begun to fade when another one kicked up its heels on the badminton court. A match between Chinese and South Korean women “descended into chaos” after both teams threw their own games in order to win a more favorable placement in the finals. From Reuters:
The BBC quoted an IOC spokesman as saying: “The federation has a huge experience in refereeing their sport and we have every confidence that they will deal with the issue appropriately and take any necessary measures.”
Players and coaches of other teams expressed disdain and laid the blame on the Chinese camp.
“It’s because of those Chinese…,” a Taiwan team coach who declined to be identified told Reuters.
The players may face discipline charges.