Ye Shiwen’s blistering performances in the pool are a sign of things to come. If drug allegations are the only plausible answer to the questions raised after unprecedented performances, we have a series of marred Olympic Games to come.
Producing a final split faster than USA’s Ryan Lochte in the men’s 400m individual medley, the sport has never seen a woman beat a man’s time in the same professional event. Prior to the 2012 Games, Ye’s personal best time was 4:33.39 which she beat in the heats and again in the final for an improvement of 5 seconds.
Ye’s overall time was still slower than Lochte’s time by 23 seconds.
After the 16 year olds dominant gold medal winning performance in the women’s 400m individual medley, USA swimming official John Leonard labelled Ye’s performance as “unbelievable” and “impossible”.
USA Swimming released the following statement.
“John Leonard … is not an employee, representative or spokesperson for USA Swimming, nor is he a member of the U.S. Olympic Swim Team or a part of the U.S. delegation here in London.”
The damage however had been done but handled excellently by the Chinese team. Ye later went on to win the 200m individual medley, defeating Australian Alicia Coutts by half a second.
“I like to believe innocent until proven guilty. As far as I’m concerned I think she is an amazing swimmer and it’s just amazing that I got to be as close as I was with how amazing she is,” said Coutts in a show of true Australian sportsmanship.
For professional athletes, drug allegations and cheating are insults of the highest order. Damage to confidence is the major blow and although it has not been proven, Leonard’s comments are one way for the USA to unsettle the Chinese camp. We see it every day amongst coaches publicly bickering but drug allegations are an unacceptable level.
More civilised ways to handle the situation do not involve the media.
Unfortunately for Australia (but the good of world security), Ye still went on to win gold in the 200m individual event. With censorship the way it is in China and language difficulties, Ye may not have been affected as much as other athletes would in terms of mentality entering the event. Having undoubtedly been shielded but the events occurring in between her two gold medals, such allegations had the potential to ruin her campaign.
In terms of USA strategy, Leonard having no official role on the US delegation made him the ideal scapegoat and forced the Chinese camp into unnecessary damage control.
Sadly for USA, we are in a phase of succession where China will be leading the gold medal count for years to come due to the programs they put in place years prior to the 2008 Beijing Games.
Spending money on the training and development of athletes from an early age, Beijing was only the beginning, and from then on out, Chinese athletes will be improving in terms of talent and times.
With a vast population to choose from, we are only seeing the first generation of what will soon be super athletes whose professions are decided from very early ages. From there, their entire life revolves around being the best in the world and anything less brings shame to their family name.
2008 was the first time since 1992 that USA did not top the gold medal count and with the Chinese team growing larger in numbers for the past few Olympic Games, there can be little doubt that the Chinese Olympic team is the fastest developing in the world.
For those interested, dancer Li Cunxin’s autobiography Mao’s Last Dancer provides a graphic account of the requirements for Chinese athletes in attaining excellence and the sacrifices they have to make for the good of the State. There is also an Australian film of the same title released in 2009.
We are only seeing the first generation of Chinese Olympic supremacy so let’s hope USA can spend less time cultivating controversy and more time developing their athletes.
Just 16 years of age, Ye Shiwen is only going to get better.