A case of sour grapes?
Posted on August 5, 2012, Sunday
CHINA’s Ye Shiwen has been vilified as a cheat for winning a swimming gold medal in world-record time at the on-going London Olympics.
A US coach said the 16-year-old might have had ‘some kind of pharmaceutical assistance’ – which sounds rather hollow, considering Ye has been tested over 100 times, including in London, and certified clean everytime.
To the coach in question, Ye’s record-breaking 400IM (4:28.4) is “not believable to many people,” especially him.
But he was quick to dismiss as “unfounded” comparisons to fellow countryman Michael Phelps’ achievements (eight gold medals) in Beijing, rationalising that Phelps swam consistently faster every year on a normal improvement curve.
Would the coach have been so complimentary if Phelps were Michael “Ye”?
Many commentators regard the doping insinuation against Ye as offensive – even rooted in anti-China sentiments. Scores of tweeters have leapt to her defence with one saying: “This is typical chauvinism. Those who question Ye Shiwen’s achievements are just jealous that China has become powerful in swimming.”
Another noted: “For those singling out Ye Shiwen because of ‘Chinese history of doping,’ she actually trains in Brisbane under Oz coaches.”
China’s sports officials attribute Ye’s remarkable progress to a decade of hard work – plus her outsized hands and feet which give her extra propulsion.
People are also wondering why in other countries, swimmers who won multiple gold medals are not criticised while vicious accusations are hurled at Ye for doing the same, prompting one observer to ask: “If she were an American swimmer, would they be calling her a cheat or a teenage phenom? “
Jonathan Edwards, British world treple jump record holder, tweeted: I feel very uneasy about accusations being levelled at Ye Shiwen – she’s just 16. I’d prefer to believe in brilliance until proven otherwise.”
Aussie swimming legend Ian Thrope told the BBC: “We have to remember that young swimmers can take chunks of time off that other people can’t.”
Adrian Moorhouse, the British 100M breaststroke gold medallist in the 1988 Seoul Games, defended Ye, saying: “We saw Chinese swimmers in the 1990’s — they were the size of houses. They looked like they had huge muscle growth. This girl is quite small – she’s just in good shape. Given China’s vast population of 1.3 million, and its state-backed elite sports programme, it is possible the country’s swimming system has simply unearthed a phenomenon.”
British Olympic Association (BOA) chairman Colin Moynihan said in the eyes of the World Anti-Doping Agency, Ye is a clean athlete.
“Let us recognise there is an extraordinary swimmer out there who deserves the recognition of her talent in these Games,” he added.
The greatest breakthrough performance at an Olympics was Bob Beamon’s winning long jump in the 1968 Games in Mexico City.
That year, the long jump world record had been extended just eight inches over the previous three decades. But Beamon, on his first jump in Mexico City, added nearly two feet to the existing mark, jumping 8.90M or 29 feet, 2½ inches — a record that would stand for a quarter century.
Beamon himself never jumped farther than 27 feet again. Yet, no one ever branded his phenomenal leap in Mexico City as suspicious.
Now, if an athlete, especially from this part of the world, were to do a Bob Beamon on the track in London in the next two weeks, don’t be surprised if it triggers a firestorm!
In Ye Shiwen’s case, what irks some western coaches is her 58.68 seconds over the last 100M of her 400IM, just slightly slower than US winner Ryan Lochte’s time in the men’s competition, and the fact that her final lap was quicker than the American swimmer’s — albeit some observers pointed out that Lochte was seen decelerating slightly near the end of his last 50M because he knew he had won.
These coaches also claimed it is unbelievable Ye’s previous personal best in the event was set when she was 14, two years before London 2012. And she has now improved her time by five seconds.
However, informed analysts pointed to the incredible progress of former 400IM world record holder Aussie Stephanie Rice.
She swam a personal best of 4:40:79 in June 2007.
Less than six months later, she smashed her personal best by 3.61 seconds with 4:37:18
Six months after that, she again smashed her personal best by 6:06 seconds and set a new world record of 4:31:12 at the Australian Olympic trials.
By simple arithmetic, she improved by over 9 seconds to world-record setting time in 12 months — that’s more than 9 seconds in a year.
On the other hand, the analysts said, Ye’s previous personal best was set when she was 14, two years prior. And by comparison, improving by five seconds in two years is quite normal — just 2.5 seconds in a year.
An unfazed Ye who went on to take her second gold medal in the 200IM also in world record time, said the turn of events had actually motivated her to work harder.
And why not? If Dara Torres was swimming better in her 40’s than in her 20’s without anyone looking askance at her extraordinary ability, why should an equally gifted swimmer who has never failed a doping test like Ye Shiwen be pilloried for her God-given talent?
Moorehouse got it right when he said: “I think it’s sour grapes and quite insulting actually.”