In the first few days of the Olympics, the London games have already been marred by racism-tweeting athletes, cheating Badminton players and black-eye-distributing female soccer players. But the biggest controversy might just turn out to be one that may not exist.
Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen, 16, has been as on fire as someone can be while in water, taking gold in the 400-meter medley on Saturday and breaking the world record by a full second – even kicking things up during the final 50 meters to beat the speed of men’s gold medalist Ryan Lochte. On Monday, she returned – and set the Olympic record for the 200-meter individual medley. Naturally, with any such performance these days comes an allegation best summed up in a word and a punctuation mark: Steroids?
British news outlet ITV points out, “China has a deep rooted-problem that has led to doubts being expressed about the 16-year-old’s ability in the pool. Back in the 90s, 40 Chinese swimmers were banned for doping offenses. That’s a bad reputation to recover from, and Ye Shiwen is under suspicion because that was systematic doping of athletes. Even former medical officers from national teams admit it.”
On the other side of the argument, Slate writes, “”There’s no evidence that Chinese swimming sensation Ye Shiwen is doping. So why is everyone insinuating she’s a cheat?” pointing out “In the absence of hard evidence–reliable sources, a failed drug test–sportswriters don’t go around accusing athletes of cheating. Except, it seems, when that athlete is a 16-year-old Chinese swimmer who’s going faster than anyone has gone before.”
In the New York Times, American star Natalie Coughlin has been quoted as calling Ye Schiwen’s performance “interesting,” and Caitlin Leverenz (who herself won a bronze medal Tuesday evening) says, “The Chinese have had a history in the past of doping, so I don’t think people are crazy to point fingers, but I don’t think that’s my job to do right now.”
Google her name, and you’ll immediately be inundated with Internet chatter — some defending her, others proclaiming her all but guilty.
The Chinese have reiterated their commitment to playing by the rules, Ye has dismissed any concerns about doping, and there is no hard evidence of steroid abuse. But as Canadian swimmer David Sharpe says of Ye’s performance: “That’s pretty unbelievable. No one really understands how that happened.”
Ultimately, if Ye is ever revealed to be cheating, it would be huge news. But for now, the news story is that such a momentous performance would be met with suspicion.