Photo: (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
China’s anti-doping chief has hit back at “biased” suspicions about the extraordinary triumph of the teenage gold medallist Ye Shiwen.”I think it is not proper to single Chinese swimmers out once they produce good results. Some people are just biased,” Jiang Zhixue, who leads anti-doping work at China’s General Administration of Sport, told the state news agency Xinhua.
“We never questioned Michael Phelps when he bagged eight gold medals in Beijing.”
Chinese internet users have also reacted angrily to doubts about the 16-year-old swimmer’s stunning performance, accusing sceptics of jealousy or bitterness because their own countries are not performing as well.
The controversy was sparked when a highly respected American coach described the prodigy’s extraordinary triumph in the 400m individual medley as “unbelievable”, “suspicious” and “disturbing” in an interview with the Guardian.
John Leonard, executive director of the World Swimming Coaches Association, said her performance brought back “a lot of awful memories” of the Irish swimmer Michelle Smith, who won the same race at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 but was banned two years later for tampering with a urine sample.
Concern has focused on Ye’s dramatic improvement in ability over the past year and on her acceleration in the last 100m of the 400m medley, in particular her final length – quicker than that of Ryan Lochte, who won the men’s individual medley in the second-fastest time in history.
But others have argued that young athletes can make remarkable breakthroughs and have pointed to the way the Chinese system picks individuals for their physique and drills them rigorously.
Jiang said China’s swimming team had made breakthroughs due to scientific training and sheer hard work.
He added: “The Chinese athletes, including the swimmers, have undergone nearly 100 drug tests since they arrived here.
“Many were also tested by the international federations and the British anti-doping agency. I can tell you that so far there was not a single positive case.”
The deputy anti-doping chief Zhao Jian said Leonard “thinks too much” and urged people to wait for test results.
He added: “It seems in the sports world people always suspect good scores. You cannot assume a runner is not a normal person just because he runs faster. Those assumptions are not fair to any athlete.”
Seven Chinese swimmers tested positive for steroid use at the Asian Games in 1994. Four years later, four competitors were sent home after a routine customs check found a Chinese swimmer was carrying large amounts of banned growth hormones as she arrived at Perth for the World Championships.
But Zhao said China had launched a major crackdown on doping, changing its laws, tests and training.
“In 1990, when China started the doping test, we did 65 tests. Right now, we do 15,000 tests each year. As far as I know, America and Australia carry out 7,000 to 8,000 a year,” he said.
“All Chinese athletes get anti-doping education and training, take an oath and take an exam. Our system is serious and severe.”
Zhang Xinming, a reporter at Sports Illustrated who has followed Ye’s career, acknowledged that the 1990s scandals had given people a bad impression of Chinese swimmers, but added: “I don’t think it is the case this time, because the freestyle is Ye’s strongest feature. I know her; Ye has the ability to win. Besides, the tests for Olympic Games athletes are very strict. It is not possible she was doped.”
After doubts were first raised, Ye herself said: “The Chinese team keep very firmly to the anti-doping policies, so there is absolutely no problem.”
Last month, Xinhua announced that another Chinese female swimmer, Li Zhesi, would not take part in the Olympics because she had tested positive for a blood-boosting drug in March.
In 2009 five junior Chinese swimmers were banned after testing positive for the anabolic agent Clenbuterol at the 2008 national junior championships.
China has blamed ambitious or ignorant individuals and coaches for problems. But last week, two former Chinese Olympic doctors described routine use of doping in the 1980s and into the early 1990s in interviews with the Sydney Morning Herald.
Chen Zhanghao, China’s lead doctor for the Los Angeles, Seoul and Barcelona Games, claimed: “The United States, the Soviet Union and France were all using [steroids and growth hormones] so we did as well.
“So how can you condemn China but not the USA or Soviet Union?”
Chen added: “We blindly believed them, like fools, because they all seemed like good people. But indeed they lied to us. After trying them ourselves, we made two conclusions: one is that training is the key, after all. And even in the US, taking drugs do not guarantee performance.”
He also added that some athletes had rejected banned drugs.
• Additional research by Cecily Huang
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk
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