John Leonard, the executive director of the World Swimming Coaches Association, has caused a bit of a storm, and brought upon himself accusations of sour grapes, by implying yesterday that Ye Shiwen, the 16-year-old Chinese swimmer, may have taken performance enhancing drugs when she won the women’s 400m individual medley in a world record time.
After swimming the final 50m freestyle leg faster than American swimmer Ryan Lochte managed in his final leg when he won the same race in the men’s event, John Leonard said;
“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. That last 100m was reminiscent of some old East German swimmers, for people who have been around a while. It was reminiscent of 400m individual medley by a young Irish woman in Atlanta……….Any time someone has looked like superwoman in the history of our sport they have later been found guilty of doping”. Ye was more than seven seconds faster in the 400m individual medley than she had been in the equivalent race of the World Championships last year. While Leonard accepted that such improvement was feasible, he described the final 100m as “impossible”. He added: “To swim three other splits at the rate that she did, which was quite ordinary for elite competition, and then unleash a historic anomaly, it is just not right. I have heard commentators saying ‘well she is 16, and at that age amazing things happen. Well yes, but not that amazing, I am sorry.”
In response Ye Shiwen defended herself, “The Chinese team keep very firmly to the anti-doping policies, so there is absolutely no problem,”
Rightly, we should give every competitor the benefit of the doubt, especially when, like Ye Shiwen, they have never failed a single doping test.
Nevertheless, I think it is only fair to point out that during the 1980s and 1990’s Chinese officials were similarly aghast when similar accusations were made against Chinese swimmers and athletes and yet we’ve since found out that there was a state sponsored program of doping, known euphemistically as ‘Scientific Training’.
Only 4 days ago Xue Yinxian, the former chief doctor for the Chinese gymnastics team in the 1980s, told the Sydney Morning Herald that, steroids and human growth hormones were officially treated as part of “scientific training” as the country emerged as a sporting power. “It was rampant in the 1980s,” she told the Sydney Morning Herald. “One had to accept it.”,”And so it was with human growth hormones, which she described as a scientific training method. Whoever rejected them would face punishment or criticism.”
The Chinese women’s swimming team came from obscurity to win 12 of 16 gold medals at the 1994 world titles in Rome, prompting suspicion among competitors but the Chinese team was decimated by positive steroid busts that same yearat the Hiroshima Asian Games.
This was not, as the Chinese authorities claimed at the time, an issue of a few bad apples but a state sponsored program.
Now, you can believe that the Chinese are now all squeaky clean or just more sophisticated in their doping, it’s up to you.
The problem is that those whose job it is to detect new doping methods are always one or two steps behind those that are inventing them. It is generally the poorer country’s athletes who get caught, as they can only afford the doping methods from ten years back while the wealthier countries can afford to invest and innovate.