Is she or isn’t she? The arguments for (and against) Ye Shiwen

Published On August 3, 2012 | By Stephanie Silva

Chinese teen swimmer Ye Shiwen has fallen victim to accusations that her powerhouse accomplishment in the London Games is due to performance-enhancing drugs. Sixteen-year-old Ye crushed the world record in the 400 individual medley with a time of 4:28.43; not only that, but she also broke her own Olympic record in the 200 IM. John Leonard of the American Swimming Coaches Association was one of the most vocal speculators. “History in our sport will tell you that every time we see something, and I put quotation marks around this, ‘unbelievable,’ history shows us that it turns out later on there was doping involved,” Leonard was quoted as saying. Let’s weigh the facts, shall we?

Reasons she could be doping

– As a petite-bodied woman, Ye was able to swim faster than USA’s Ryan Lochte in the last 50 meters of their 400m IM’s. Not only that, but she shaved an astonishing five seconds off her personal best. To compare, decorated Olympian Michael Phelps won gold in both the 2008 Beijing Games and the 2012 London Games but his 2008 time in the 200m individual medley was only .04 seconds faster than this year.

– She is very young and still swam faster than those many years her senior with extensive training under their belts. At 16, how could she have improved so drastically in such a short amount of time?

– One of Leonard’s points was that the difference in Ye’s swim times between the last 50 of the 200m and the 400 were significant, as if she were told to back off. He insisted that her strokes during the 200 were much more subdued than her previous race that was twice as long.

– The Chinese swim program has a lengthy history of doping. Just six weeks ago, Ye’s 16-year-old teammate, Li Zhesi, was kicked off the team after testing positive for a performance enhancing drug that increases a swimmer’s ability to deliver oxygen to muscles during athletic competition. China has also been involved in numerous cheating scandals in the 1980s and 1990s. While Shiwen should not be deemed guilty by association, it would not be unheard of for an athlete in the program to cheat.

Reasons she isn’t doping

– Even though she would have beaten Lochte in the final 50 meters of the 400m IM, that doesn’t mean she’s doping. Lochte’s last 50 meters in the 400m IM was slower than at least four of his competitors (including Phelps) even though he won the gold medal. Women and men simply have different bodies and different strengths and it’s unfair to compare them. That’s why the teams compete separately.

– Ye isn’t exactly new to winning swimming meets. She took the gold in the 200m IM in the 2010 Chinese National Games as well as in the 2011 World Aquatics Championships. In the 400m IM, she won the bronze at the same 2010 Games.

– Since the 2008 Games, the Chinese Swimming Association has put millions of dollars into improving their program. Ye conceded that she trained extremely hard with daily 2.5 hour practices both morning and night. Coaching staff may also play a huge part; Australian coach Ken Wood claims he gets paid four times as much per swimmer in China than he does back home.

– Ye argued that it’s unfair to compare the laps of a 200m race to that of a 400m race. “A freestyle turn is different from breaststroke-to-freestyle transition and the former is much faster than the latter,” Ye said. “It’s normal the last 50 in the 200 medley is slower than that in the 400 medley.”

– Phelps had fallen scrutiny to the same doping accusations in Beijing because he annihilated the swimming competition. He also passed all drug tests administered to him (nine of them!) to prove he competed fairly.

– In the most obvious of alibis, Ye passed all drug tests both prior to the Games and after her London races.

At this time, Ye Shiwen is free of any charges; unless that changes, it is unfortunate that her amazing performance is devalued by doping concerns from spectators.

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