Ye Shiwen, the 16-year-old swimmer who set a new world record on Saturday in the 400-meter individual medley, has been accused of cheating.
The Guardian’s Andy Bull, who on Sunday published a very interesting and insightful account of Ye’s swim and the reactions to it and her teammates (“Over the course of the 1990s [China] had 40 swimmers banned after positive doping tests. The sceptics – or perhaps cynics – would say that the doubts about Ye, [bronze-medalist] Li [Xuanxu] and [gold-medalist] Sun [Yang] are the inevitable consequence of that history”), has just published a much more controversial follow-up.
In this article, John Leonard, executive director of the World Swimming Coaches Association, is given all the space he wants to explain why he — and, he implies, lots of others — thinks Ye cheated. Since the article is basically Leonard’s editorial, we’ve gone ahead and cut out the middleman so you have just the American coach’s published words:
Unbelievable… disturbing… brings back a lot of awful memories.
We want to be very careful about calling it doping. The one thing I will say is that history in our sport will tell you that every time we see something, and I will put quotation marks around this, “unbelievable,” history shows us that it turns out later on there was doping involved. That last 100m was reminiscent of some old East German swimmers, for people who have been around a while. It was reminiscent of 400m individual medley by a young Irish woman in Atlanta.
…Looks like superwoman. Any time someone has looked like superwoman in the history of our sport they have later been found guilty of doping.
I have been around swimming for four-and-a-half decades now. If you have been around swimming you know when something has been done that just isn’t right. I have heard commentators saying “well she is 16, and at that age amazing things happen.” Well yes, but not that amazing. I am sorry.
Unbelievable… I use that word in its precise meaning. At this point it is not believable to many people.
No coach that I spoke to yesterday could ever recall seeing anything remotely like that in a world level competition. Where someone could out-split one of the fastest male swimmers in the world, and beat the woman ahead of her by three-and-a-half body lengths. All those things, I think, legitimately call that swim into question.
You can’t turn around and call it racism to say the Chinese have a doping history. That is just history. That’s fact. Does that make us suspicious? Of course. You have to question any outrageous performance, and that is an outrageous performance, unprecedented in any way, shape or form in the history of our sport. It by itself, regardless of whether she was Chinese, Lithuanian, Kenyan, or anything else, is impossible. Sorry.
[Michael] Phelps got consistently faster every year on a normal improvement curve. There has never been anything that you look at in any of Mr Phelps’ swims that you look at and say “well, that’s impossible, that can’t be done.”
[Sun Yang, 20,] has a perfectly normal improvement curve, he is a dramatically spectacular athlete in our sport and I’ve no question about him at all. But a woman does not out-swim the fastest man in the world in the back quarter of a 400m IM that is otherwise quite ordinary. It just doesn’t happen.
I am sure that Fina and the doping authorities have taken every sample they can take. The sample will be tested and available for testing for the next eight years. And over eight years, if there is something unusual going on in terms of genetic manipulation or something else, I would suspect over eight years’ science will move fast enough to catch it. I have every faith that eventually if there is something there to be caught it will be caught. Right now all we can say is Olympic champion, world record holder, and watch out for history.
The Guardian’s piece is still worth looking at though, if only for the measured response of Arne Ljungqvist, the chairman of the International Olympic Committee’s medical commission and a veteran anti-doping official.
Ye, for her part, has denied the accusations:
“There’s absolutely no problem with the doping,” Ye said on Monday, according to a translation provided by the official Olympic News Service. “The Chinese team has always had a firm policy about doping.”