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Column by John Lohn
LONDON, England, July 29. IT was going to happen. It was only a matter of when, and with how much force. Not minutes after Chinese youngster Ye Shiwen captured the gold medal in the 400 individual medley on the opening night of Olympic competition, accusations started to fly. You know the type. She must be doping.
What a bloody shame.
The world-record performance produced by Ye in the 400 IM was nothing short of spectacular, her clocking of 4:28.43 a masterpiece. And while the entire work was breathtaking, it was the way the 16-year-old punctuated the race which was all-the-more amazing. Known for her closing ability on the freestyle leg, Ye registered a split of 58.68 for the final two laps.
For some of the sport's avid followers, it was enough to sit back and appreciate what will go down as one of the finest performances in the pool in years. Those individuals simply marveled at the way the teenager overtook American Elizabeth Beisel on the final leg. They loved every minute of a history-making outing, and enjoyed the goosebumps which it generated.
For others, and this realization can be found in our commentary section and in other public forums, there was immediate doubt. Some individuals insinuated there was no way that performance could have been the result of sheer skill. Others flat-out pointed a finger, seemingly stating as fact that Ye is on performance-enhancing drugs. It seemed like still more would have loved to get in Ye's face and yell at the top of their lungs, “You're not clean!”
When it comes to doping and allegations of drug use, China hasn't done itself any favors. Its track record opens itself up — to a degree — to a level of doubt. Such is the way things go when a country has been cited for a systematic doping program, which was in effect in the early 1990s. Remember, the Chinese won 12 of 16 gold medals at the 1994 World Championships.
Still, the accusations fired at Ye are out of line. In this age of improved drug testing and considering the Chinese have not had an overflow of positive tests of late, as was the case in the past, there is no reason to suspect improprieties by Ye or the Chinese Swimming Federation. Maybe she is a singular talent which we've never seen before. It happens. Know that guy by the name of Michael Phelps? When he burst onto the scene doing things that were other-worldly, we didn't sit around suggesting drug use. Rather, he was embraced as a once-in-a-generation force. Couldn't Ye fall into the same category?
Additionally, there are no doubts about the ability of Ye's countryman, Sun Yang. The Olympic champion in the 400 freestyle and the world-record holder in the 1500 free, Sun took down Grant Hackett's iconic record last year in the metric mile, and there were no question marks. Why should Ye face them?
It's not like the Chinese youngster came out of nowhere at her first Olympiad. If that scenario had unfolded, there would be reason to raise an eyebrow. But Ye has been on the radar for more than a year, her breakout arriving at last summer's World Championships in Shanghai. There, she wowed her home crowd by collecting the gold medal in the 200 individual medley. That victory, too, was capped by a monstrous freestyle leg.
“I'm very lucky,” Ye said during her press conference. “Training is not very hard for me because I've been trained since childhood. We have a very good scientific-based training. That's why we're so good.”
If the United States can produce Phelps and Ryan Lochte from a population of 300 million, why can't China develop a talent such as Ye from a population of more than a billion? In the aforementioned website commentary, there was some sense of ugly Americanism. On the bright side, there were also a few defenders of Ye, fans who are confident she got the job done the right way and won't change that opinion unless a positive test is returned.
I'm deeply proud to be an American, but there was an element of embarrassment while reading the commentary section. Considering the performance-enhancing drug issues which have plagued the United States in recent years, who are we to cast aspersions? Let me throw out a few names: Barry Bonds. Mark McGwire. Floyd Landis. Get the message?
One of the big reasons for the doubt surrounding Ye is the fact that her freestyle split nearly matched what Lochte clocked for his final two laps. Basically, few could wrap their mind around a woman — a young girl in Ye's case — being within three hundredths of a second of the best male swimmer in the world. Yet, a strong finish is her trademark.
The bottom line is that Ye Shiwen has been found guilty of nothing, except for possessing a ridiculous amount of talent. Instead of dirtying her achievement with unfounded claims and doubts, it would be wiser to appreciate a performance which was legendary. Going the other way is not only unfair to Ye Shiwen, but to any athlete who delivers a similar effort of epic proportions.
Follow John Lohn on Twitter: @JohnLohn