Doping Suspicions About Gold-Medal Swimmer Trigger Angry Response in China

China rallies to support 16-year-old swimmer Ye Shiwen, whose world-record-breaking swim in the 400-m individual medley has raised questions about doping

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Daniel Ochoa De Olza / AP

China's Ye Shiwen competes in a women's 200-m individual medley swimming heat at the Aquatics Centre during the 2012 London Games on July 30, 2012

Chinese coaches, commentators and sports fans have rallied to support 16-year-old swimmer Ye Shiwen, whose world-record-breaking swim in the 400-m individual medley at the London Olympics has raised questions about doping. Ye beat her own personal best by five seconds and swam the final 50-m quicker than Ryan Lochte, the American winner of the men’s event, prompting John Leonard, an American who is the executive director of the World Swimming Coaches Association, to call her gold-medal performance “suspicious” in an interview with the Guardian. The allegation has set off a furious response in China, where the Olympics  are closely followed. China took the most gold medals at the Beijing Games in 2008, a point of national pride and a sign of the country’s resurgent national strength.The head of China’s Olympic swimming team rejected any suggestion that Ye may have used performance-enhancing drugs. “Ye Shiwen winning the gold was something we expected, and not worthy of surprise. Her level of training is very high,” Xu Qi told the state-run Xinhua News Service. “We are very excited, but it wasn’t unexpected.” Xu said it was incorrect to compare Ye’s closing sprint with Lochte’s because she was swimming in a closely fought race and had to close a gap on American teenager Elizabeth Beisel, while Lochte had a more comfortable margin on the final leg. And he noted that despite the focus on Ye’s fast finish, her world-record time was 4 min. 28.43 sec., more than 20 seconds slower than Lochte’s winning time of 4 min. 5.18 sec.

Shaving five seconds off a personal best in a race under five minutes is rarely seen at elite levels. At the same time, Ye has shown steady improvement, winning the 400 IM at the 2010 short-course world championships and winning the 200 IM at last year’s Aquatic World Championships. At 16, she is at an age when swimming stars such as Mark Spitz, Michael Phelps and Janet Evans began to stand out in international competitions; Evans set three world records when she was 16. “In Spitz’s time, he was called a once-in-a-century talent, then quickly Phelps came along and won eight golds at the Beijing Olympics, leaving people amazed,” said Xu. “Now the U.S. has Lochte, Missy Franklin and other talents. France and South Africa often have talents emerge. We recognize and admit that these talented competitors exist, so why is it that China, with all its population, can’t have a swimming talent?”

(MORE: Reality or Strategy? China Plays Down Hopes of Beating the U.S. in Gold-Medal Count)

Suspicions against Chinese swimming date back to the 1990s, when the country’s program experienced a series of doping scandals. The women’s team exploded onto the international scene in the early 1990s, winning four golds and five silvers at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 and then dominating the 1994 world championships, prompting allegations of doping. In 1998 a Chinese swimmer, Yuan Yuan, was caught with a human growth hormone in her baggage while en route to the world championships in Perth, Australia, and four other swimmers were suspended for positive tests. In a recent interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, a retired Chinese Olympic doctor said the doping program in the 1980s and ’90s was state-sponsored and not merely a series of mistakes by unscrupulous individuals.

Chinese officials have said that that era is in the past and doping is strictly forbidden. The team even closely monitors food sources to ensure that banned substances like clenbuterol, a muscle builder that is used illegally by Chinese farmers to speed the growth of pigs and cattle, doesn’t end up on athletes’ dinner plates. In 2008 the Chinese swimmers had a strong showing at Beijing’s Water Cube, prompting a sense that the swimming program had recovered from the debacle of the ’90s.

Thus far there has been no evidence that Ye used a performance-enhancing substance. But the suggestion clearly upset many Chinese, who saw it as part of a pattern of foreign prejudice that Chinese athletes face. The allegation became one of the hottest subjects online on Tuesday, with more than 1 million comments posted on Sina Webio, the popular microblog service. “To have suspicions is ok, and there are normal channels for investigation, but why hasn’t there been any doubts proclaimed that are based on evidence? This is too wretched,” Hu Xijin, editor of the Global Times, a tabloid that is part of the Communist Party–run People’s Daily group, wrote on Sina Weibo. While most Chinese commenters supported Ye, a few raised questions of their own. “Reasonable doubt is normal,” wrote a commenter on a message board hosted by Hong Kong–based Phoenix Media. “Only in an abnormal society do people want to shut every body up in the name of nationalism if they are facing doubts.”

— With reporting by Chengcheng Jiang / Beijing

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94 comments
StopallyourLIES
StopallyourLIES

amerikkkans are known to be world bully amp; terrorist, slaughtering millions of innocent civilians.  You invaded nations on packs of lies.  You torture by employing nations like Libya and Syria, then your dirty politicians go on TV to say "american do not torture". 

Fact is usa out dope China 8 to 1.  Your dirty bully government covered up all the doping of your track atheletes in the 90's.  Carl Lewis, Marion Jones, Griffith-Joyner, etc.  The list is endless.  Their medals were all taken away and you stupid amerikkkans are still talking about these confiscated medals as if they still exist in your hands.

Regarding Vietnam and Philippines, it is you amerikkkans who encourage these countries to unilaterally tear up their peace agreement with China and start claiming land that was never theirs and not included in their submission to UN.   This is the only way your terrorist government can "pivot to Asia", to start war and invasion so that your military industrial complex can continue to profit.  Sheeps like you believe everything your lying government tells you.

Melody Pomeranian
Melody Pomeranian

Chinese are known cheaters and liars.

Fake Nike, Rolex, DVDs, etc. are all around the country.

Some players are caught cheating like game fixing in badminton, under age in gymnastics and PED on various sports.

They even have the guts to trespass Vietnam and Philippines territory based from fake historical maps which is against international law of the land and sea.

Sai Tatapudi
Sai Tatapudi

it is sad that olympics have been filled with jingoism. instead of cheering victories, we keep medal count, pressurize players, and teams to do unthinkable deeds. Sadly, even genuine victories come under such suspicions.

on other note, we pour millions of $ into special clothings, food, etc which are considered legal. i bet this might be one of the reasons why ancient Greeks played naked.

@Chinese readers, please don't be offended by such faux reports. just like urs, our media goes for the silly stuff.

jason024
jason024

Well when your Badminton team is caught throwing matches....it isn't that much of a strech to think someone is doping.

Funny how China is acting all high and mighty. Weren't they the ones who got caught for sending underage gymnasts? 

SmallSpeakHouse
SmallSpeakHouse

I'm hard-pressed to believe that one girl constitutes massive doping by the state, because if so, many of her team mates should have been breaking records. I admit that years ago, I would have found state doping easy to believe. But now, I think hard proof is needed. Without proof, letting "the debate rage on" is just cruel. Leave it to the officials to investigate if needed.

Blinky1
Blinky1

I cant believe that you alow this comment on your website...

I an shocked that you allow this to be posted about a 16 year old girl.Silky Johnson  She's on EPO and probably some HGH as well.  In June the 16 year old men's relay anchor got caught on EPO.  EPO is EXTREMELY expensive.  Between 1000-1500 US dollars for a normal cycle's worth and then the stuff you buy over the internet is of questionable quality.  It's a high grade pharmaceutical designed to increase hematocrit levels and treat anemia.   It's not something he just got his hands on.  This is a government program.  Dirty slunt

flux8
flux8

Speaking as an American, this was such an unfortunate turn of events.  Mr. John Leonard is the executive director of the American Swimming Coaches Association and he needs to remember his responsibilities as such.  He is allowed to have his suspicions, but to air them in public without a shred of evidence was cruel to the girl.  The problem is that whether he is right or wrong, he just completely ruined a teenage girl's moment in the sun.  If he was right, it would be discovered eventually - there was no need to open his mouth.  But if he's wrong...well, the damage is irreparable and has a ripple effect that goes beyond just smearing this girl's accomplishment for no good reason. It creates a subtle rift in international relations and gives people of other nations the impression that Americans are sore classless losers. It was reckless and irresponsible and Mr. Leonard needs to issue a public retraction and apology.

bertafiable
bertafiable

I don't see where the U.S would have anything to say about doping, just saying .........

FeninChina
FeninChina

Only in an abnormal society do people want to shut every body up in the name of nationalism if they are facing doubts.”WTF! Ye's new medal just beat the doubts heavily. we don't want to shut every body up. you can say it is not real or it is, but you never gonna beat the truth. 

SeanLim
SeanLim

John Leonard claims that the Chinese have a 'history' of doping in the Olympic games.

Unfortunately, a quick search of statistics on doping put the US (8 dopers), Austria (11 dopers) and Bulgaria in the top 3 for doping since the rules were implemented recently in 1968. China only had 1 who tested positive with volleyballer wu Dan. In fact, there is much greater history of doping by the US than china, with 8 times more incidents of doping. There is more 'historical evidence' to doubt Michael Phelps than Ye ShiWen but of course that did not happen.

This is an obvious point hardly made in the media and is evidence of how distorted and biased reporting in the 'free' media is. Shame on all of us for such poor journalism and sportsmanship

t_hubbard
t_hubbard

Given that the track record of the Chinese people is not angelic – combined with human nature’s insatiable desire – to win…’We sore’ losers have every right to question the use of illegal drugs from ANY country that participates to include our own. The funny thing here is that you speak and write English….You probably live in this country and yet still identify yourself as Chinese first. If your country is so great and above question - than move back. However, you’ll probably be untruthful and say that you’re already live there.

stfusa
stfusa

Since when did we become a nation of 'sore losers'....First it was 'Soviet Union bashing'....Now it is all about 'China bashing'...Anything they do or achieve is either illegal or evil... Wonder who is next?

alansky
alansky

Considering the Chinese government's well-documented lack of forthrightness about everything else, there is no reason to believe the assertion of Chinese officials that doping is not tolerated in China. But it's still up to those bringing charges to prove their allegations.

PasstheSteroids
PasstheSteroids

Of course China is doping. They are the new Soviet Union. Everybody knows it. Just test her, disqualify her and move on.

catfish63
catfish63

Her performance was incredible, exciting and awesome all at once.  I felt pride for her and I am an American.  She has not failed a drug test and was recently cleared again by the IOC.

She should not have to pay for mistakes that China made in the past but she is.  I just hope she is kept ignorant of this so she does not have to deal with it.

Amitavo Mitra
Amitavo Mitra

wonder boy lochte has failed miserably according to his standards, and everybody else's standards (phelps is somewhere chuckling), and there is no good reason why.

what other way to divert all the attention than to raise unfounded suspicions about another swimmer who is blazing the field.

Gary McCray
Gary McCray

We live in a world where competition and winning are everything.

In our corporate and business world and even our government competing is all important and winning at any cost is the only value.

Successful cheating is valued even more than fair play.

The Olympics are the Acme of competition.

Pressure to "cheat" is never higher.

Any time a new country excels we immediately suspect cheating.

The utter emphasis on winning is destroying us.

Cooperation and mutual support are important, winning is not.

We are going to learn that the hard way.

bruinjoe
bruinjoe

She swam faster in the last 50 m than the man who won the same event.  That doesn't surprise people?

27
27

Of course people will be suspicious, just as they'd be suspicious at anyone who performed such a feat.  The difference being that in the West, you'll get outed by your own country if you do it.

Whereas in China, it has been actively promoted and funded, at least in the past.  They're likely not the only country to use such methods, but the suspicions are there for a reason.

Not to mention that in general, that there has become a general cynicism about athletes all competing on a level playing field with new advances always keeping the best-funded athletes one step ahead of the testing.

So go ahead and feel shame at being suspicioned... you won't be the only ones.

Shuami
Shuami

For Ye, the best answer to all these innuendos is to swim the best of her life and walk away with a gold in 200IM tonight. Oh, yeah, IOC has already come out with clean test report for Ye.

duduong
duduong

The girl is so young that she has not competed internationally much yet. "Personal  best" here means nothing. She trains in Australia under a well-known coach, who has expressed zero surprise at her Olympic result as it is consistent with her recent  performances during training.

Furthermore, her "amazing" final 50m speed is far from unprecedented. A European female swimmer outdid her by nearly two seconds in 2009 World Championship.

This new round of finger-pointing was an eye-opener to me, not because I did not know that Americans were sore losers but for the widely varying levels of fairness in American media reporting, which serve as a perfect barometer for their racist leaning. NY Times' is full of innuendos while skipping any counter-arguments, thus leaving the unmistakable impression that doping is all but certain. It seems that NY Times is now the new champion in China bashing and racist bias against Chinese. In contrast, The Atlantic actually ran an interview with an American author, who pointed out the media bias and mentioned for example the bashing China received four years ago for evicting Beijing residents to make room for the new stadium. It turns out that East London has done mass eviction on a grander scale, leading to serious riots, but readers in the US would know nothing of it, because it simply isn't mentioned anywhere in the media.

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