LONDON (Reuters) - It is not unusual for teenage athletes to knock seconds off their fastest time, London Olympics chief Seb Coe said, adding he would prefer to “celebrate” Chinese Ye Shiwen’s stunning performance in the pool rather than cast doubt on it.
The 16-year-old has been the focus of some unwelcome attention since her world record performance in the 400 medley, with a few critics questioning how she could have swum her final freestyle length faster than Ryan Lochte did in the men’s event, also knocking 5 seconds off her personal best in that race.
Australian swimmer Alicia Coutts, who trailed behind her in second place in the 200 meters individual medley a few days later, also said she believed athletes should be treated as “innocent until proven guilty”.
“It’s not the first time teenagers have broken world records or won Olympic titles,” Coe, a former middle-distance double gold medalist on the track, told reporters on Wednesday.
“You’ve got to be very careful when you suddenly assume that a massive and unexpected breakthrough in an event or a particular discipline is based on anything other than great coaching, extraordinary talent and all the other things.”
He looked back to his late teens when, he said, he took 4.5 seconds off his best time in the 800 meters.
“So it’s really not that unthinkable,” he said.
The youngster’s supporters have accused her detractors of racism, pointing out that far from appearing out of the blue, Ye, a world champion over the 200 medley last year, had been very much on the sport’s radar for years.
Asked directly if she had ever used performance-enhancing drugs, Ye has answered through an interpreter: “Absolutely not.”
She said the accusations were “a bit unfair”, and put her success down to her hard work.
Coe, chair of the London Olympic organizing committee (LOCOG), said he would prefer to give the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise.
“So my inkling is to celebrate what was an extraordinary performance,” he said.
Editing by Sonya Hepinstall