On Saturday evening, one girl stunned the world of swimming and indeed the Olympic Games. The women’s 400m individual medley final was won in sensational style by 16-year old Chinese Ye Shiwen, who smashed Stephanie Rice’s previous world record of 4:29:45 by swimming 4:28:43. Many have mentioned that, incredibly, her time in the last 50 metres was faster than men’s 400m IM gold medallist, Ryan Lochte.
However, instead of praising this quite remarkable achievement, one man’s shameful public comments created front pages this morning which are sadly unnecessary. US swimming coach, John Leonard, stated that Ye’s last 100m was “disturbing”, going on to say: “Every time we see something unbelievable it more often than not turned out to be some form of cheating… No woman has ever split the men.”
|Ye Shiwen dominated the 400m IM final on Saturday|
These are very strong words and quite frankly he should be punished. First of all, if he was so concerned about Ye cheating, why did he not have the guts to go straight to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) who deal with these cases? Instead, he has just thrown a very loose accusation with no support whatsoever into the public domain, creating a “row” which never should have existed.
It’s easy to see how China’s reputation may have been tarnished by instances of cheating. Their swimming team was hit with doping scandals throughout the 1990s, in particular during the 1994 Asian Games, while another 16-year old, Li Zhesi tested positive for performance-enhancing drug erythropoietin just last month.
But crucially in this case, Ye Shiwen was cleared by WADA (World Anti-Doping Association) before the Games, enough proof from the outset that she is not a cheat. In the unlikely event that she is, she and every other gold medal winner’s samples have be retained by the IOC for another eight years. This means if testing evolves (which it will do) then the new technology can be run on the samples to double check the results.
In any case, it has been well documented how brutally intense some of the Chinese training regimes can be for their promising athletes, which is why we are seeing some brilliant performances at these Games. There have been many reports of children being whisked away at an early age to camps going through regimes which are far more intense than anything experienced here in the Western world.
This indeed is what happened to Ye. She swims several hours almost every day and could perform 20 chin-ups at the age of seven. Her large hands and limbs, and her masculine upper-body structure, were immediately recognised by her coaches, and they have put her through everything imaginable and more to ensure she fulfils her potential at these Olympics. She must have felt deeply insulted, after all this hard work and effort, to have heard Leonard's comments.
Furthermore, the last point which coach Leonard makes above, that “no woman has ever split the men”, although factually correct, is interestingly placed in relation to the previous comments. Is he suggesting that the only explanation behind women going faster than men in swimming, or any sporting event for that matter, is that they cheated and took drugs? If so, it is also completely unnecessary to say during an Olympics which has embraced female participation across every nation.
So these comments by Leonard are shockingly misguided and baseless. We should believe in Ye’s brilliance until we are proven otherwise by the IOC and WADA. And we must remember the Olympic motto – “faster, higher, stronger”. Sadly this has been forgotten by some. Ye Shiwen is a remarkable athlete and one wonders when her achievements will be replicated.