Suspicions about drug use were raised when China’s Olympic swimmer Ye Shiwen, 16, won gold in the 400-meter individual medley on July 28 with a time of 4:28.43, swimming the last 50 meters of the race faster than the gold medalist for the men’s 400-meter medley, American Ryan Lochte.
American Swimming Coaches Association and World Swimming Coaches Association Executive Director John Leonard told the Guardian that he felt Ye’s victory was “disturbing.”
“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,” said Leonard.
Others also expressed suspicion about Ye’s victory—not just because of her speed, but also because of the way she won the race. Ross Tucker, a sport scientist with a doctorate in exercise physiology from the University of Cape Town in South Africa, points out in his blog, The Science of Sport, that suspicions about Ye’s victory are not without reason.
According to Tucker, swimmers in the last leg (freestyle) of their 400-meter medley generally score a time 18–23 percent slower than their counterparts in the isolated 100-meter freestyle race. However, Ye’s time for her last 100 meters was only 10 percent slower than the best freestyle swimmers in the 100-meter freestyle races, a difference that experts regard as significant.
“The conclusion that I would draw from this is that her 100-meter freestyle leg is disproportionately fast not only by comparison to Lochte, but also to her peers, and to the best 100-meter freestyle swimmers,” he writes in his blog.
The suspicion cast over Ye has met with backlash in China’s state-owned media, where it is argued that the Western world is prejudiced toward Chinese people.
A history of doping does not help the Chinese case. In the 1990s, a large number of Chinese swimmers were proven guilty of doping to enhance performance in their competitions—seven during the 1994 Asian Games, and another four before world championships in Australia.
Even as recently as June, another female swimmer, Li Zhesi, tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs and was disqualified from the Olympics team.
David Whitley, a columnist for AOL Sporting News, points out in his article, “Olympics 2012: Ye Shiwen’s Lochte-like time too good to be true,” that the Chinese regime must be behind the incredible performance.
Chinese cheating was state-sponsored. If a newborn had big hands and feet, she would be plucked from her family, sent to the People’s Republic of Swimming School, pumped full of mystery supplements,” Whitley writes. “China readily admits to turning toddlers into training robots.”
Ye’s failing to test positive for drugs may not be the end of it. According to New York Daily News, Victor Conte, the founder of Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative (BALCO), said on Tuesday that there are still ways to get around the tests: performance-enhancing EPO administered through IV injections, for example, is undetectable after 19 hours.
Conte describes EPO (erythropoietin) as a drug that can speed up the delivery of oxygen to the muscles and the disposal of metabolic wastes. “It clears so quickly. … It just increases oxygen capacity and gives you a kick at the end,” he said.
China’s history of drug scandals has given many people reason to worry; Tucker, said, “We should be suspicious, because history has shown us more than once before. … Does anyone who knows China’s ethos and attitude toward Olympic sport actually believe that they would NOT deliberately dope their young athletes to win medals? If your answer is no, then I’m afraid you’re naive, just as we’d be naive to believe that any athlete, regardless of nationality, faces huge temptation to dope.”
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