Let's all hope Ye gets what she deserves…
23:25 GMT, 31 July 2012
For arguably the greatest swimmer the world has ever seen it was rather a muted response. No cheers, no roar, little more than polite acknowledgement really.
They are a reserved lot in Beijing, too, so Ye Shiwen probably did not notice. The rest of the sport would have, though. The cynics and believers, the dubious and convinced. Most importantly, those at the heart of the sport — the organisers, the officiators, the other athletes — all would have noticed something missing at 8.45 in the Aquatics Centre.
Faith. Trust. The basic contract between individuals that is the soul of any sporting contest. Once that goes unsigned, competition is meaningless, and here it lay discarded in a puddle on the tiles.
All week the pool has been a wall of sound, but not for the women’s 200metre medley. The excitement surrounding the next event, a men’s freestyle relay, only served to underline the sense of reserve. Michael Phelps became the greatest Olympian in history in that event. He captured imaginations, as sheer brilliance does.
Muted celebration: Ye Shiwen is embraced by Alicia Coutts after her win
And Ye should have, too. She is a
marvel, a modern wonder of the world. No less than utterly unique. The
first woman to swim faster than the best man.
Yet that feat was what had shocked
those watching into unease. They did not believe what they had seen
then, so they were not willing to believe what they were seeing now.
After Saturday’s game-changer this was Ye winning well, but winning
ordinary. Doing enough, but no more. Where was the girl who blew away
Ryan Lochte’s final leg here on Saturday night She touched first, in
Olympic record time, but nothing that would register as unusual. Too
late. The genie is out of the bottle now.
The day had been dominated by claim
and counter-claim following John Leonard’s decision to go public on
his disquiet at Ye’s achievement. Executive director of the World
Swimming Coaches Association since 1989, Leonard is no loose-lipped
loudmouth. His questioning of Ye’s 400m medley win at the weekend was
‘If you look at the woman in question
and her biomechanics in the heats, she has a steady, moderately slow,
six-beat kick,’ he said. ‘All of a sudden in the Olympic final she
turned it up to an eight-beat kick, which any coach will tell you is
very difficult to maintain for 25 metres, let alone 100.’
Double trouble: Ye added to her golden haul with victory in the 200m individual medley
The beats refer to the number of kicks
Ye makes with each stroke. It is a rhythm only swimming coaches would
fully comprehend, and its identification carries considerably greater
weight than other markers touted as suspicious, such as the fact Ye
knocked five seconds off her personal best time.
The vested interests organising these
Games do not want it to be remembered for even the hint of a doping
scandal, so they have been playing down Leonard’s observations all day.
Lord Coe and Lord Moynihan have both cited the absence of any evidence
beyond basic scepticism, and they have a point. Proof is required before
judgment is made, although China’s record of failed drugs tests in the
pool does not lean to giving the benefit of the doubt.
Experienced swimmers, from Adrian
Moorhouse to Ian Thorpe, have also insisted that extremes can happen in
the teenage years. Great strides can be made at Ye’s age: 16. But
eight-beats-per-stroke great This is the question with, as yet, no
answer. We are left instead to consider one of life’s maxims: if
something looks too good to be true, that is what it is.
Of course, it is easy to suggest
latent racism or old-fashioned Western arrogance in the doubters, easier
still to buy into envy or baser instincts as the motivation for
cynicism. The same defences were made when Caster Semenya won the 800m
at the World Athletics Championships in a time that made little sense,
given her history. Wild accusations of sexism and anti-African racism
were thrown, but in the end it was Athletics South Africa who were
forced to admit they knew her gender was an issue all along. Leonard
Chuene, the ASA president, resigned.
A force of nature: Ye received muted applause for her achievement
It is the numbers, not skin colour or
nationality that causes questions to be asked. At the 2000 Olympics in
Sydney, Inge de Bruijn of Holland won gold medals in the 50 and 100m
freestyle and the 100m butterfly. She broke 10 world records that year.
De Bruijn is white, blonde, statuesque, pretty: after every victory she
was asked about doping.
This was the Olympics after the
pale-skinned Michelle Smith of Ireland had been banned for producing
tainted samples. Swimming feared another crisis. ‘I absolutely do not
think this is a drug-free Olympics,’ said Richard Quick, coach to the
United States women’s team. Susie O’Neill, a gold medallist for
Australia in 1996 and 2000, described De Bruijn’s achievements as
De Bruijn added to her gold medal
tally in Athens, and has never failed a drugs test. Her record of four
gold, two silver and two bronze medals makes her the greatest Dutch
Olympian. White skin and flaxen hair, however, did not spare her the
inquest because her times were simply considered too special.
Inquest: Inge de Bruijn
So Ye wasn’t special. Not
quite. An Olympic record is special to most, but given what Ye did to
the history books on Saturday this amounted to a doodle, rather than a
scored line through the page. It was almost as if she had been told to
shield a little, to be just a little marvellous instead.
‘I’m not affected at all by the
scandal,’ she said. ‘It made no difference to my race. Training has
been very hard and I need a long break now.’
As if disappearing from view will help. Seasoned observers will say they have seen that before: it is rarely a good sign.
Ye got a better reception receiving
her medal, but considering her achievements at these Games, nothing like
she deserved. We don’t precisely know what she deserves, of course,
that is the problem. We must hope, that if she has not got it already,
she does some time soon.