Ye's beginnings hint at swimming prowess

HANGZHOU Thu Aug 2, 2012 7:19am EDT

China's Ye Shiwen smiles after winning the women's 200m individual medley final during the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Aquatics Centre July 31, 2012. Ye set an Olympic record with a time of 2 minutes 7.57 seconds. REUTERS/Toby Melville

China's Ye Shiwen smiles after winning the women's 200m individual medley final during the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Aquatics Centre July 31, 2012. Ye set an Olympic record with a time of 2 minutes 7.57 seconds.

Credit: Reuters/Toby Melville

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HANGZHOU (Reuters) - At the Chen Jing Lun Sports School in the picturesque city of Hangzhou, the slogan, "Today's sports school student, tomorrow's Olympics stars", that greets all who enter the compound was a prescient greeting for one little girl 10 years ago.

London Olympics double gold medalist Ye Shiwen.

The 16-year-old's powerful performances at the London Aquatic Centre propelled her to gold medals in the 200 and 400 meters individual medley, and a world record in the longer distance.

However she immediately became enshrouded in controversy when a U.S.-based coach suggested one of the reasons for her remarkable performance, she swam the final 50 meters of the 400 faster than men's champion Ryan Lochte, could be because of doping.

At the pool where Ye first began swimming at six years old, her childhood coach Wei Wei dismissed the allegations and said her success is boiled down to good genes and prodigious hard work.

"Ye Shiwen never told me that she was tired, or that she didn't want to swim anymore, she never said that," Wei Wei told Reuters, as nearly 20 children, divided three to a lane, did furious freestyle-laps in the nearby pool.

"She was especially hard working and conscientious.

"In just two months, she went from not being able to swim, to swimming freestyle and backstroke well," Wei said, adding that what struck him about her was her size in comparison to others girls her age.

Ye's big hands and feet and broad shoulders gave her an advantage over children her age, propelling her to compete against older children and win provincial competitions at eight years old, two years after she had learned to stay afloat.

Ye who spent five years training at the Chen Jing Lun school before moving to a provincial swimming school had a relatively easy childhood training consisting of daily after school swims of one hour before gradually increasing to daily two and a half hours sessions.

Dai, a swimming coach at the school, specializes in choosing children who he thinks might be future champions and Ye is not the only Olympian the school has produced.

Men's 400 freestyle champion Sun Yang, the prohibitive favorite to win the 1500 on the final day of swimming competition in Saturday, also trained there.

"It's like having ball sense, some children have a better sense of the water, they float easier," Dai said on what he looked for when choosing children.

YOUNG PERFECTIONIST

The questioning of Ye's win in the 400, she also knocked five seconds off her personal best, caused anger in China with Ye herself telling the media she was clean.

World governing body FINA also said she had never tested positive, while the IOC intimated there were no problems with her test after the race.

Ye's father, Ye Qingsong, was also angry at the allegations and said one of the reasons for her prowess was because she had always competed against people older than her.

She was also a perfectionist.

"When she was five I bought her sketch-books for her to practice penmanship," Ye's father told Reuters at her modest family home in north Hangzhou.

"But while she was practicing, she wasn't doing it well and got angry. She threw the books down and started to cry but after she stopped crying, she picked up her pen and continued practicing.

"I thought to myself, this child is very determined and very persistent."

With four large bouquets of flowers sitting on the dining table from local politicians and friends and incessant media requests, Ye's father was slightly bewildered by all the attention.

To him, she was a shy girl whose hint of greatness lay in her steely determination.

"She put had high expectations of herself and pushed herself hard, we had to cut her expectations.

"When she lost a race, she would be very unhappy but that was her personality, she was very ambitious and hated losing."

By the time she was 13 Ye was competing nationally, in the senior category, and while she did not win any awards her times put her in the top-16 in both medley races and the 100 freestyle.

That was when Ye's father knew she was talented.

But the pressure of entering sports in a China where medals go hand in hand with national pride led him to have a serious talk with Ye when she was 11 and about to join the provincial swimming school.

"I advised her, if you go down the professional path, you will give up a lot of things. You can't turn back on the path once you are on it, are you sure you want this direction?" Ye said.

"She said, 'I want to swim, I like to swim. Dad don't worry, I'll be fine'."

(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)

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