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Rumors Of Doping Swirl Around Chinese Swimmer

Aug 3, 2012
Originally published on August 3, 2012 6:06 pm



It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish. The Chinese swimming champion Ye Shewin has accused a U.S. coach of acting unprofessionally when he suggested she was doping. That's after the 16-year-old blasted past her opponents to win two Olympic gold medals.

It's been a dramatic week for her. Instead of reveling in breakout-star status, she left a controversy in her wake. From London, NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: The London games ended quietly for Ye Shewin.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Take your mark.


GOLDMAN: China, with Ye swimming the second leg, finished a disappointing sixth in the 4-by-200 freestyle relay. For Ye, though, it was probably OK because no one pays attention to sixth, and she'd had enough attention already.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Have you used any performance enhancing substances which are banned substances?

YE SHEWIN: (Speaking foreign language).

GOLDMAN: I definitely have not, Ye said, during a press conference earlier in the week. It had been like that since the first Saturday of the games, when Ye won the 400 meter individual medley in world record time. Thanks to a stunning surge at the end, she improved her personal best by five seconds. Over the final 50 meters, she clocked a faster time than American star Ryan Lochte in his dominating win in the men's 400 IM. John Leonard watched it all and cried foul. Leonard heads the American Swimming Coaches Association. He declined an interview request but said after Ye's race that it was unbelievable, as in not to be believed, and it brought back memories of the 1990s, when Chinese swimming was rife with doping.

Those who agree with Leonard point not so much to the better-than-Lochte lap - he may have been tiring in his race, and other women have swum a faster 50 than Lochte did. Instead, the doubters say it was Ye's dramatic improvement in the personal best time that raises red flags, not however, for Lord Sebastian Coe.

LORD SEBASTIAN COE: I remember in my late teen years taking four and a half seconds off an 800-meter personal best.

GOLDMAN: Coe is a former Olympic medal-winning runner and head of the London organizing committee.

COE: So, it's really not that unthinkable. My instinct is always to give the benefit of the doubt to the competitor until proven otherwise.

GOLDMAN: In response to the Ye controversy, the International Olympic Committee proclaimed: If there are cheats, we will catch them. History says that's not necessarily true. And so all of this, once again, leaves us in the gray zone says Professor John Hoberman

JOHN HOBERMAN: We are stuck, in terms of trying to figure out what we should think and how we should feel about certain performances.

GOLDMAN: Hoberman is a sports historian at the University of Texas in Austin. He has studied and written about doping for decades. That immersion tends to make him pessimistic. For instance, he considers elite sport doping a permanent condition.

HOBERMAN: It's analogous to the criminal activity in a typical city, controlled but never eliminated.

GOLDMAN: And he says it's fueled by the very thing we're cheering and valuing in London: sporting greatness.

HOBERMAN: If you are an athlete from Kazakhstan in these Olympic Games, and you win a gold medal, you're going to receive a quarter of a million dollars. And as one German sports official just said, if we are paying bonuses for medals, we are driving doping. It's an impossible situation.

GOLDMAN: Preposterous, right, to think of de-valuing greatness? So, Hoberman says to those who love elite sport: prepare to stay stuck. Meanwhile, Ye Shiwen, her Olympic experience clouded, couldn't resist a parting jab. Writing on her blog yesterday, Ye said: A really big thanks to everyone for their support, including the doubts from the Western media. Tom Goldman, NPR News, London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.