Support grows for teenage Chinese gold medal swimmer
Suzannah von Strandmann
Ye Shiwen, the 16 year old Chinese swimmer who took gold in the women’s 200m and 400m individual medley events, has received support from swimming’s governing body FINA, after US swimming coach John Leonard questioned the legality of her success.
Ye’s world record time in the 400m event shaved seven seconds off her time at the 2011 World Championships, recording a final split which was faster than that of the male winner in the equivalent race.
Glory, however, was short-lived, as Leonard, executive director of the World Swimming Coaches Association, inferred that doping may have been involved.
Within hours of the accusations, China’s anti-doping chief and Ye’s own father spoke out in her defence, asking why nobody had scrutinized the success of Michael Phelps when he won eight gold medals in Beijing.
Finally, on Wednesday, FINA issued a press release stating that ‘there is no factual basis to support this kind of insinuations’ and emphasising that she had met all her obligations relating to Doping Control.
So why then did Leonard speak out, despite an apparent lack of evidence?
Chinese media labelled it an act of ‘petty’ jealousy, stemming ‘from deep bias and reluctance from the Western press to see Chinese people making breakthroughs.’
Perhaps, though, it is not the record-breaking achievements of ‘people’ in general,but of women in particular that triggered Leonard’s response.
“Where someone could out-split one of the fastest male swimmers in the world, and beat the woman ahead of her by three-and-a-half body lengths. All those things, I think, legitimately call that swim into question.”
It wasn’t “someone” who out performed US gold medal winner Ryan Lochte, it was some woman and Leonard’s comments bring back uneasy memories of another female athlete who faced public scrutiny after significantly improving her performance.
Caster Semenya carried the South African flag at the 2012 Opening Ceremony, but not before an eleven month investigation into her gender by the International Association of Athletics Federations finally cleared her to compete against other female athletes.
Although the two cases are clearly unconnected, they draw attention to the unprecedented suspicion to which female athletes can be subjected in response to their successes – unlike their male counterparts.
Semenya begins her Olympic campaign next week, no doubt hoping to clinch gold in the women’s 800m athletics event. Nonetheless, the shadow of those 2009 accusations hang heavily over her, so we can only hope that the same will not be the case for Ye in Rio 2016.