Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen's feat 'disturbing' says US coach
Veteran John Leonard raises the spectre of doping as he questions teenage swimmer's 'unbelievable' win
THE WHIFF of innuendo and accusation now hangs over the London Olympics after the performance of Chinese swimming prodigy Ye Shiwen - who knocked five seconds off her personal best and set a new world record on her way to gold at the weekend - was described as "unbelievable" and "disturbing" by a respected American coach.
John Leonard, executive director of the World Swimming Coaches Association, told The Guardian that the performance of Ye, who swam the final 50 metres of the women's 400m individual medly faster than Ryan Lochte, the winner of the men's race, was "suspicious" and bought back "awful memories" of drugs cheats.
Leonard is the first major figure in the swimming world to go public with suspicions over Ye's performance after BBC presenter Clare Balding expressed astonishment at Ye's feat on live TV – though the BBC insisted she was not implying anything.
"That last 100m was reminiscent of some old East German swimmers," said Leonard. "Any time someone has looked like superwoman in the history of our sport they have later been found guilty of doping.
"I have heard commentators saying 'Well she is 16, and at that age amazing things happen'. Well yes, but not that amazing. I am sorry."
Leonard said no other coaches could recall a performance like it. "The final 100m was impossible. Flat out. If all her split times had been faster I don't think anybody would be calling it into question, because she is a good swimmer. But to swim three other splits at the rate that she did, which was quite ordinary for elite competition, and then unleash a historic anomaly, it is just not right."
The Times notes: "China has a dire record of drug cheating by its swimmers and other athletes. Dozens tested positive for banned substances during the 1980s, 1990s and at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. At the world championships in Perth in 1998 a routine customs check of a swimmer's bag found enough human growth hormone to supply the entire women's team."
However, the swimmer herself has denied any wrongdoing and Chinese supporters claim she is being victimised. "My results come from hard work and training," she said. The Xinhua news agency reported that IOC anti-doping chief Arne Ljungqvist had sprung to her defence. "To suspect someone for having done something because they performed extraordinarily is a bit sad for Olympic sport," he said.
That requirement for "hard work" is picked up by the Daily Mail which reports that from the age of seven Ye underwent a "draconian training system" at a camp where conditions are similar to those in a 19th-century prison.
"At seven she could already perform 20 chin-ups - an exercise beyond the capability of most fit adults," says the Mail. "She swims every day for several hours - only getting a break when the pool 'needs cleaning' according to one of her coaches, Wei Wei."
Meanwhile two other teenagers stole the headlines in the pool on Monday night. American 17-year-old Missy Franklin won gold in the 100m backstroke and Lithuanian Ruta Meilutyte, who is just 15, won her country's first ever Olympic swimming medal with gold in the 100m breaststroke.