By Andrew Barr
The International Olympic Committee has dismissed claims by an American swimming coach that Ye Shiwen’s gold medal win for China was “suspicious”.
John Leonard, who is also the executive director of the World Swimming Coaches Association, suggested that 16-year-old Shiwen’s record-beating performance in the 400 metre individual medley could have been aided by doping.
“We want to be very careful about calling it doping,” said Mr Leonard.
“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 100 metres was reminiscent of some old East German swimmers, for people who have been around a while. It was reminiscent of the 400-metres individual medley by a young Irishwoman in Atlanta.”
Ireland’s Michelle Smith, was banned for two years following her swimming victory in the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games after testing positive for anabolic steroids.
“Any time someone has looked like superwoman in the history of our sport they have later been found guilty of doping,” added Mr Leonard.
Ye Shiwen, like all Olympic athletes, had undergone drugs testing before the games and had tested negative.
The IOC’s medical commission chairman, Arne Ljungqvist said: “You ask me specifically about this particular swimming (event), I say no I haven’t personally any reason to other than applaud what has happened.”
However, Mr Ljungqvist admitted: “There is no way actually in telling whether the games are completely clean or not.”
40 Chinese swimmers tested positive for doping during the 1990s and a further seven were caught before the Beijing Games.
“Nobody’s ever seen somebody swim that fast before. You expect that to be an occurrence at an Olympic Games,” said Dick Pound, an IOC member and former president of the World Anti-Doping Agency.
“The problem is – with all the suspicions about drug use throughout sport – when something is really, really spectacular, the first thing you do after you see that performance is say, ‘hmm, I wonder’.”
In media-censored China news of the controversy is somewhat downplayed, but Chinese officials have reacted angrily to what could be a diplomatic disaster with the US.
“Ye Shiwen has been seen as a genius since she was young, and her performance vindicates that,” Xu Qi, the head of the Chinese swimming team, told the Chinese state news agency Xinhua.
“If there are suspicions, then please lay them out using facts and data. Don’t use your own suspicions to knock down others. This shows lack of respect for athletes and for Chinese swimming.”
Jiang Zhixue, the anti-doping chief of China’s General Administration of Sport, said: “I think it is not proper to single Chinese swimmers out once they produce good results. Some people are just biased. We never questioned Michael Phelps when he bagged eight gold medals in Beijing.”
“The western media has always been arrogant, and suspicious of Chinese people,” added Ye Shiwen’s father.
Lord Moynihan, chair of the British Olympic Association, said it was “regrettable” and “wrong” that there has been so much doubt surrounding Shiwen’s talents.
He said: “We know how on top of the game Wada (World Anti-Doping Agency) are and Wada have passed her as clean.
“That’s the end of the story. And it is regrettable there is so much speculation out there. I don’t like it. I think it is wrong. Let us recognise that there is an extraordinary swimmer out there who deserves the recognition of her talent in these Games.”
Ye Shiwen added to her gold medal tally last night with a win in the 200m medley, beating Australia’s Alicia Coutts into second place. The time of 2:07.57 broke the existing Olympic record, but was outside the world record.