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LONDON, Aug 12 (Reuters) - China bowed out of the 2012 Olympics on Sunday with a swipe at the critics who had accused teenage swimming sensation Ye Shiwen of doping after her times rivalled the top U.S. men.
Aged just 16, Ye set a world record, a Games record and won two gold medals in the women's individual medleys, but her victories were overshadowed by questions and insinuations of cheating. There was no proof that she had broken any rules.
Head of the Chinese delegation to London, Liu Peng, said the accusations were totally unfounded and stressed that China was strongly opposed to any doping "misbehaviour".
"This is really unfair. This is groundless," Liu told a news conference on Sunday.
"There are individuals and media that are accusing, unfounded, our Chinese athletes. These people should respect sporting persons' dignity and their reputation."
Ye gave a stunning 400 metres individual medley display.
She covered the penultimate freestyle lap in 29.75 seconds, faster than medal-laden Michael Phelps in the men's medley final, and the last lap in 28.93, quicker than the U.S.'s Ryan Lochte did in winning the men's event.
She also became the first female swimmer to break a world record since the ban of performance-enhancing suits, taking more than a second off the previous benchmark.
Television presenter Clare Balding, working for the British Games broadcaster the BBC, asked aloud how many questions would be raised by her performance, and media outlets picked up remarks by John Leonard, executive director of the World Swimming Coaches Association.
Questions were also asked in newspaper columns, including in the British Guardian and the New York Times.
Chinese media snapped back, saying the baseless suspicions showed racism.
"This is unfounded guessing and rumours about our athletes and the media should blame themselves because they should be objective and stick to the facts," said Liu.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) had no comment on Ye, who was tested after her Olympic gold medals and is likely to have had further tests leading up to the Games.
The IOC only comments if testing uncovers adverse findings.
China's patchy track record in doping in sport is part of the reason critics were so quick off the mark.
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.
Liu said China took anti-doping very seriously: the government published anti-doping regulations in 2004.
In June this year, the Chinese Anti-Doping Agency said world champion swimmer Li Zhesi had tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs and she was dropped from the Olympic team.
"China has laws against doping. Only very few other countries in the world have such laws," he said. "Anti-doping is always a very, very serious issue in China."
Created by Belinda Goldsmith; edited by Sara Ledwith