* Chinese swimmer at centre of doping speculation
* Questions overshadow her, others' heroics in pool
* Anger among Chinese athletes, journalists in London
* Doubts fuelled in part by China's chequered past
By Mike Collett-White and Alan Baldwin
LONDON, July 31 Chinese swimming sensation Ye
Shiwen should be basking in the glow of Olympic glory - aged
just 16 she has a world record, a gold medal and a great chance
of another to come.
Instead, she has been forced to fend off questions and
insinuations of cheating in a doping row that has no solid basis
in fact, yet threatens to overshadow the early stages of the
Games and a thrilling few days in the pool.
Privately, her 396-strong team and the big Chinese media
contingent at the Olympic Park in east London are furious.
Ye, they say, has been unfairly targeted by the media in a
way that athletes from other countries have not.
Xu Qi, head of the Chinese swimming team, summed up the mood
in the camp.
"Ye Shiwen has been seen as a genius since she was young,
and her performance vindicates that," he told the state news
"If there are suspicions, then please lay them out using
facts and data. Don't use your own suspicions to knock down
others. This shows lack of respect for athletes and for Chinese
In fact, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) hinted on
Tuesday that Ye had not tested positive for drugs.
She was tested after her Olympic gold and is most likely to
have undergone further tests in the immediate build-up to the
Games and over a longer period.
Anti-doping agencies have sought to beat cheating using
target testing and intelligence gathering ahead of London 2012.
"We would only comment if we had any adverse finding," IOC
spokesman Mark Adams said on Tuesday. "I am not commenting, so
you can draw your own conclusions."
That may not be enough to quell conjecture, and as Ye
prepares for the 200 metres individual medley final later on
Tuesday, another gold may only add to her problems. After
posting the fastest qualifying time on Monday, she is favourite.
Doubts over Ye's display, and whether it was humanly
possible without performance-enhancing drugs, surfaced after her
stunning 400 individual medley display on Saturday which swiftly
became the talk of the Olympic village.
She trailed American world champion Elizabeth Beisel after
the penultimate breaststroke leg before a devastating finish
over the final two freestyle lengths.
Ye covered the penultimate one in 29.75 seconds, faster than
medal-laden Michael Phelps in the men's medley final, and the
last in 28.93, quicker than Ryan Lochte did in winning the men's
She also became the first female swimmer to break a world
record since the ban of hi-tech suits, taking more than a second
off the previous benchmark.
"Interesting" and "insane" were two words used to describe
the race by former Olympians quoted in the New York Times,
although many coaches and athletes rallied behind Ye on Tuesday
as the furore grew.
Question marks appeared in newspaper columns, as in the
British Guardian's: "Ye Shiwen's world record Olympic swim:
brilliant, or too good to be true?"
Television presenter Clare Balding, working for the British
Games broadcaster the BBC, asked aloud how many questions would
be asked, and media outlets picked up remarks John Leonard,
executive director of the World Swimming Coaches Association.
"The one thing I will say is that history in our sport will
tell you that every time we see something, and I will put
quotation marks around this, 'unbelievable', history shows us
that it turns out later on there was doping involved."
He cited the example of Irish swimmer Michelle Smith, who
won gold in the same event as Ye at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics
but was banned from swimming for four years in 1998 for
tampering with a drug test.
Ye, nicknamed the "young general" at home, has brushed aside
"My results come from hard work and training and I would
never use any banned drugs," she told reporters in London. "The
Chinese people have clean hands."
The issue of doping in sport, and China's own patchy track
record, are part of the problem.
China had a spate of cases in the 1990s, most embarrassingly
in 1998 when a female swimmer and coach were disqualified
from the Perth world championships after being caught with 13
vials of muscle-building human growth hormone at Sydney airport.
China's domination of women's swimming ended as quickly as
Other athletes from other countries and sports have also
been shamed, most famously Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson who won
world record and Olympic gold in Seoul in 1988 but was
disqualified days later when he failed a drugs test.
"Improvement in performance doesn't necessarily mean illegal
action. Sport is all about pushing the limits," said Gregoire
Millet, director of the Sport Science Institute at the
University of Lausanne in Switzerland.
But he added: "We know that doping had been active in China
- I stress had been. We don't know that now, but that means
there's always going to be suspicion."
Jim Ferstle, a U.S. journalist who is an expert on the
subject of doping, agreed.
"China's history of doping issues only increases the
suspicion. Sadly that is the reality. We hope we're witnessing
the emergence of a gifted athlete, but can't be sure."
He summed up the feeling of many journalists and sports fans
who want to celebrate the unbridled thrill of sporting triumph
and yet cannot shake off niggling doubts in the back of their
Ye's case is more complicated and has made veteran Olympic
reporters and officials uneasy.
Why, they ask, does the sporting media, and the world in
general, embrace an athlete like Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt
and his heroics in Beijing in 2008? What about Bradley Wiggins
winning the Tour de France in June, the first Briton to do so?
There is nothing to suggest either has done anything wrong
to win - and the same goes for Ye.
"If it was another country there'd be fewer questions
asked," said French swimming coach Denis Auguin in London.
"There's a bit of an injustice in that, even if the past shows
us that there were some abnormal practices in China."
U.S. head women's coach Teri McKeever said part of the
problem was people taking results out of context.
"Unfortunately ... some people just jump to conclusions when
they see something they think was impossible," she said. "I
don't know why society is like that.
"It's not like we haven't seen her before, she's won a world
championship. We saw something that's never been done before,
but we see that all the time as well," she added.
Ye, who turned 16 in March, was thrust into the spotlight as
China's leading female swimmer just before the July 27-Aug. 12
Games after world champion Li Zhesi tested positive in June and
was banned from competing in London.
The quiet teenager from an ordinary background in Hangzhou
only took up swimming seriously after a teacher noticed she had
bigger hands and legs than other children of her age, and in
2008 she joined the national team.
Success is not new to her. Ye won the world championship for
the 200 medley in Shanghai last year and was profiled by the
ruling Communist Party's top newspaper the People's Daily.
But nothing could have prepared her for the backlash against
her swimming success in London.
At home, ordinary Chinese are angry at the way she has been
"When I heard this news, I was furious," 30-year-old sales
manager Peng Wenjuan said in Beijing.
"I think that casting suspicion over our athletes before any
official release of data is totally baseless, so I believe that
Ye Shiwen's outcome was genuine."
(Additional reporting by Karolos Grohmann, Kate Kelland, Alan
Baldwin, Nick Mulvenney, Gene Cherry and Julian Linden in London
and Jane Lee in Beijing, editing by Ed Osmond)