Ye with her gold medal for the women's 400 meter individual medley, awarded on Saturday July 28. Photo: Reuters
Take a second to look at the facts before reading accusations about Ye Shiwen -- China's 16-year-old female swimming prodigy -- and thinking her performance was really that "unbelievable", "impossible", or "suspicious".
Ye won the women's 400 meter individual medley (IM) with a women's world record time of 4 minutes and 28 seconds. That's a full 23 seconds slower than Ryan Lochte's swim time for the men's 400 meter IM, 4 minutes and 5 seconds.
Ye only swam the last 100 meters faster than Lochte, which really doesn't mean much of anything when you consider the overall times. Many of Lochte's competitors swam faster than she did over the final 50 meters.
In fact, the woman who came in second place behind Ye, U.S. swimmer Elizabeth Beisel, carried a time of 4 minutes 31 seconds. Do the math, that's only 3 seconds behind Ye.
If the Chinese athlete was really doping, that's a pretty narrow margin to risk everything, especially considering that the London Olympics are the most drug-screened in the history of the Games. (Or perhaps others, including Beisel, were doping as well to have caught up so close to her?)
So why all the attention from the media about her possible doping and so-called impossible swim?
Maybe because the American public loves a good China-bashing story. Maybe it assuages some of the country's fears about China. It's certainly easier to blame a better performance (America did come in second on this one) on cheating rather than actual effort and skill.
Dismiss the idea that the Olympics are simply about sport alone. That may be the case for the individuals competing, but for the crowds watching at home, politics and nationalism plays a large role. After all, the Games are also about national competition, glory for the home crowd, making a name as the best in the world.
Take a look at the actual times the men's 400 meter IM swimmers needed to qualify. Ye wouldn't have come within the top eight -- in fact she wouldn't have even placed within the top thirty. Thirty-three male swimmers had faster times than she did in the preliminary heats, she only swam faster overall than Marko Blazhevski of Macedonia (4 mins 31 secs), Rafael Alfaro of El Salvador (4 mins 32 secs), and Ahmed Atari of Qatar (5 mins 21 secs). None of those athletes are exactly from the premier swimming capitals of the world.
Which makes World Swim Coach Association executive director John Leonard's comments all the more baffling. Leonard called Ye's performance "unbelieveable", saying "I use that word in its precise meaning. At this point it is not believable to many people."
Leonard said that "Any time someone has looked like superwoman in the history of our sport they have later been found guilty of doping ... 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. 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."
A short 3-second advantage over an American swimmer can be pretty "amazing", but the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) has been embarrassed enough by Leonard's comments to already play damage control.
"We are reaching out to the Chinese and their Olympic committee to ensure they know that this gentleman [Leonard] is not part of our delegation, USA Swimming or the US Olympic Committee," said an USOC spokesperson, adding "His comments are an independent view and not from us."
Ye herself has defended her performance by stating that "The Chinese team keep very firmly to the anti-doping policies, so there is absolutely no problem." She's not alone in calling the accusations unnecessary and unsportsmanlike.
Lord Colin Moynihan, the head of the British Olympic Association, told the press that "She [Ye]'s been through Wada [World Anti-Doping Agency]'s program and she's clean. That's the end of the story. Ye Shiwen deserves recognition for her talent."
Arne Ljungqvist, the medical commission chief for the International Olympic Committee, told a press conference that "it is very sad that an unexpected performance is surrounded by suspicions ... to raise suspicion immediately when you see an extraordinary performance -- to me it is against the fascination of sport."
Which makes Ryan Lochte's own comments somewhat curious. The American swimming star noted that "if she [Ye] was there with me, she might have beat me."
How exactly? She would have been an entire pool's length behind him.