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Sour Grapes? China Swimming Prodigy Raises Red Flags

THE INDEPENDENT, THE GUARDIAN (UK), BRISBANE TIMES, THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD (Australia)

Worldcrunch

LONDON – Sixteen-year-old Ye Shiwen is the teenage torpedo, the Chinese swimming prodigy whose devastating performances have already made her the Games’ most talked-about new star, writes the Independent.

But on Monday, after winning the 400 meters individual medley in a world-record time of 4 minutes, 28.43 seconds, whispers began. BBC presenter Clare Balding asked, “How many questions will there be over somebody who can swim so much faster than she has ever swum before?”

John Leonard, executive director of the World Swimming Coaches Association told The Guardian he thought the 16-year-old’s performance was “suspicious,” adding that although “we want to be very careful about calling it doping, […] 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.”

We’re all best served by a step back at this point, writes the Brisbane Times. Ye won the 200 meters IM at the Asian Games in 2010 (2.09.37) and the 400 meters IM (4.33.79) when she was 14-years-old. At the time she was 160cm tall, now she’s 172cm: the difference in height, length of stroke and size of hand leads to warp-speed improvement.

The Australian newspaper adds that Ye was picked for the Chinese swimming program because of her hands -- her kindergarten teacher noticed she had hands like buckets, and she was soon using them to paddle up and down the pool.

Australian coach Ken Wood, who has been working in China since 2008 told the Associated Press: “In the 1990s, the reputation of Chinese swimming wasn’t good. There were a lot of doping problems. But it really is very different now. A lot of attention is paid to training. And despite breaking the world record, Ye Shiwen didn’t come out of nowhere. Her results have steadily been improving,” he said. “So I think it is down to training, not other methods.”

But a retired Chinese Olympic doctor had another point of view. Dr Xue Yinxian told the Sydney Morning Herald that steroids and human growth hormones were officially treated as part of “scientific training” through the 1980’s and into the 1990’s. Athletes who refused to participate were marginalized she said.

In response to the allegations raised against Ye Shiwen, reports the Sydney Morning Herald, China’s former Olympic doctor, Chen Zhanghao said he had long suspected Michael Phelps of using performance-enhancing drugs. “America’s Phelps broke seven world records! Is he normal?” asked Dr Chen. “The Americans have made many extraordinary performances, but without evidence we have kept silent.”

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