(Updates with Chinese denial)
By Kevin Liffey
LONDON, July 31 China has vehemently rejected
suggestions of doping as a growing row over the astonishing
performance of a Chinese swimmer threatens to overshadow Michael
Phelps's bid to become the most decorated Olympian of all time
Ye Shiwen, 16, is chasing a second gold in Tuesday's 200
metres individual medley final after winning the 400 medley on
Saturday more than a second inside the world record.
"We want to be very careful about calling it doping," the
American John Leonard, executive director of the World Swimming
Coaches Association, told Britain's Guardian newspaper.
"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."
But Xu Qi, head of the Chinese swimming team, told the news
agency Xinhua: "Ye Shiwen has been seen as a genius since she
was young, and her performance vindicates that ... 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 swimming."
China briefly dominated women's swimming in the 1990s but
their reign ended as fast as it began, following a series of
FASTER THAN LOCHTE
Ye swam the 400 medley five seconds inside her personal
best, covering the last 50 metres of freestyle faster than
American Ryan Lochte, who won the equivalent men's event in the
second best time in history.
She issued a quick and firm denial on Monday, telling the
China News Service: "My results come from hard work and training
and I would never use any banned drugs."
Australia's Ian Thorpe, winner of five Olympic swimming
golds, warned against rushing to judgment.
"Young swimmers can take off chunks of time that other
swimmers can't," he said.
The chairman of the British Olympic Association, Colin
Moynihan, said the World Anti-Doping Agency's (WADA) checks were
extremely thorough. "She's been through Wada's programme and
she's clean," he said. "That's the end of the story. Ye Shiwen
deserves recognition for her talent."
Xu said China "probably ranks number one in the world" for
the frequency of its doping tests. "Our stance on doping is zero
International Olympic Committee medical chief Arne
Ljungqvist said it would ruin the "charm of sport" to raise
doping suspicions every time an athlete's performance improved
Others noted that American Phelps had broken his first world
record at 15. "Michael Phelps is a phenomenal swimmer," British
multiple short-course world champion Mark Foster said. "Is she
the Chinese Michael Phelps? Why not?"
Phelps has gone on to win 17 Olympic medals, 14 of them
gold. If he claims two more in Tuesday's 200m butterfly and
4x200m relay, he will overtake Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina's
record haul of 18.
He also has the chance in the butterfly, his favourite
event, of becoming the first man to win the same swimming event
in three successive Olympics.
"I made my first Olympic team in this. The shorter races are
a lot better for me now that I'm older," Phelps said.
Monday provided another story of youthful success in the
pool as Lithuanian swimmer Ruta Meilutyte, just 15, won the
women's 100 breaststroke, and an upset as Frenchman Yannick
Agnel beat Lochte in the men's 200 freestyle.
A total of three swimming golds put France third in the
medal table at the end of Monday's third day of competition,
behind the United States, on five golds, and China, on nine.
For the host nation, golds are proving elusive but a bronze
in the men's team gymnastics on Monday felt almost as good as it
ended a 100-year wait for any kind of a medal in the event.
The focus of home attention on Tuesday is Wimbledon as Andy
Murray competes in the second round of the tennis competition,
once again carrying the hopes of British fans yearning for a
title after his final defeat by Roger Federer in the grand slam
tournament there earlier this month.
Women's soccer throws up a tasty match between North Korea
and the United States, at Manchester United's Old Trafford
ground, that may prove as much of a spectacle for students of
Cold War rivalry as for die-hard sports fans.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)