Chinese sports administrators on Tuesday strongly defended swimming star Ye Shiwen and hit back at critics who suggested that the 16 year-old sensation’s world record-shattering gold medal win may have been ‘suspicious’.
China’s top anti-doping official said suggestions that the swimmer had taken any banned substance were “biased”, a day after the well-known American coach John Leonard, who is the executive director of the World Swimming Coaches Association, ignited a row by describing her performance as “disturbing”.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the British Olympic Association (BOA) both came to Ms. Ye’s defence on Tuesday. BOA chairman Lord Moynihan told reporters in London that Ms. Ye had been through the World Anti-Doping Agency’s programme and that “she is clean”.
“That is the end of the story,” he said. “Ye Shiwen deserves recognition for her talent.”
Arne Ljungqvist, head of the IOC’s medical commission, added that he did not “personally [have] any reason other than to applaud what has happened.”
In China, Mr. Leonard’s comments and questions raised by foreign media and television commentators in London after Ms. Ye’s victory have triggered anger, with both sports officials and the media hitting out at “jealousy” and “bias”.
“I think it is not proper to single Chinese swimmers out once they produce good results,” said Jiang Zhixue, the anti-doping chief of China’s General Administration of Sport.
“Some people,” he added in comments to the State-run Xinhua news agency, “are just biased. We never questioned Michael Phelps when he bagged eight gold medals in Beijing.”
Questions were raised after Ms. Ye, who was trailing for most of the 400 metres individual medley, swam a blistering last 50 metres that was even faster than men’s champion Ryan Lochte. Ms. Ye’s overall time, was however, much slower that Mr. Lochte's; Chinese commentators have pointed out that even Mr. Lochte’s competitors clocked faster times in the last 50 metres as he was slowing down.
"To compare Ye's result with Lochte's is meaningless," said national swimming coach Xu Qi. "Ye was behind after 300 metres and she need to try her best to win the race, but Lochte had already established the lead before the freestyle and didn't need to do his utmost."
"Michael Phelps won eight gold medals at the Beijing Games, and American swimmer Missy Franklin is also incredible," he added. "Why can't China have a talented swimmer?"
Chinese officials have stressed that they have cleaned up a swimming programme that has been rocked by drug scandals. Seven swimmers failed drug tests in the 1994 Asian Games and swimmers tested positive for steroids in the 1998 world championships in Australia. In the past decade, however, Chinese administrators have worked to clean up the programme. Today, China employs many foreign coaches and has opened up its tightly-managed sports system in a bid to shed its old image.
“The Chinese athletes, including the swimmers, underwent nearly 100 drug tests since they arrived [in London],” Mr. Jiang said. “Many were also tested by the international federations and the British anti-doping agency. I can tell you that so far there was not a single positive case.”
The doping claims have stirred the anger of Chinese fans, attracting hundreds of thousands of posts on Tuesday on China’s Twitter equivalent, Sina Weibo, which has several hundred million users.
Most of the comments backed Ms. Ye, and hit out at “jealousy” in the West over a Chinese swimming champion. “The reaction of some in the West shows a narrow-minded mentality,” wrote Cici Dong. “This is not the Olympic spirit.”
Some bloggers expressed their displeasure in more humourous ways. “If we could manipulate genes as some Western media seem to think, then Chinese soccer would have long been saved,” wrote Fengyayuan, referring to the much criticised national football team.