Olympics: 16-year-old Ye Shiwen's swim 'impossible’, says coach John Leonard
One of the world’s most senior swimming coaches has raised serious doubts about the validity of the “unbelievable” performance of Ye Shiwen, the 16-year-old Chinese swimmer.
By Jeremy Wilson, at the Aquatics Centre
7:47AM BST 31 Jul 2012
John Leonard, the executive director of the World Swimming Coaches Association, yesterday compared Ye’s winning performance in the women’s 400m individual medley to Irish swimmer Michelle Smith, who won gold in the same event at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics but was banned from swimming for four years in 1998 for tampering with a urine sample. Smith, now De Bruin, always denied using performance enhancing drugs.
Ye sent shock waves through her sport on Saturday when she set the first swimming world record of these Olympics, and in doing so swam the final 50m freestyle faster than American swimmer Ryan Lochte managed in his final leg when he won the same race in the men’s event.
“We want to be very careful about calling it doping,” Leonard said.
“The one thing I will say is that history in our sport will tell you that every time we see something, and I will put quotation marks around this, 'unbelievable’, history shows us that it turns out later on there was doping involved. That last 100m was reminiscent of some old East German swimmers, for people who have been around a while. It was reminiscent of 400m individual medley by a young Irish woman in Atlanta.
“Any time someone has looked like superwoman in the history of our sport they have later been found guilty of doping”. Ye was more than seven seconds faster in the 400m individual medley than she had been in the equivalent race of the World Championships last year. While Leonard accepted that such improvement was feasible, he described the final 100m as “impossible”. He added: “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.”
Ye has never failed a drugs test and, when asked about the issue of doping, she said: “The Chinese team keep very firmly to the anti-doping policies, so there is absolutely no problem.”
Leonard, who has been executive director of the WSCA since 1989, claimed that the consensus in the coaching community was that the swim was “unbelievable”. He said: “I use that word in its precise meaning. At this point it is not believable to many people.” Lochte, the American men’s swimming star of these Olympics, admitted that “if she was there with me, she might have beat me”.
The performance of Ye was also questioned immediately after the race by Clare Balding, the BBC presenter, in her discussions with former British Olympian Mark Foster. “How many questions will there be, Mark, about somebody who can suddenly swim so much faster than she has ever swum before?” she said. Blood samples taken at these Games will be kept for eight years. “I have every faith that eventually if there is something there to be caught it will be caught,” Leonard told a newspaper.
The previous record holder and competitor described the final leg of the swim as "insane".
"I mean I didn't see it, I was way over and behind, so I didn't really see her coming home, but that split coming home was out of control," she said
She refused to be drawn into the controversy.
"I have no idea, I mean I wouldn't want to get into that at all, but a 58 sec (final 100m) is an insanely fast swim," she said.
Arne Ljungqvist, medical commission chief for the International Olympic Committee, called the speculation "sad."
"For me, it is very sad that an unexpected performance is surrounded by suspicions," he told a briefing.
"I mean to raise suspicion immediately when you see an extraordinary performance – to me it is against the fascination of sport.
"To suspect someone for having done something because he performed extraordinarily is a bit sad for Olympic sport."
Meanwhile it has emerged that Olympic officials have asked the cleaners at the athlete's village to keep an eye out for any drug paraphernalia that might suggest cheating.
The surveillance will be part of the strategy to weed out the use of performance enhancing drugs.
London has the most stringent drug checks in the history of the games.
At Sydney there were 2,300 random checks but in London there will be 6,000.