July 30, 2012
Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen raising eyebrows
By ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency
LONDON - Swimming sensation, freak of nature or something dark and sinister?
Safe to say those in the know don’t know quite what to make of 16-year-old Chinese schoolgirl Ye Shiwen, who has taken over the pool that was supposed to be dominated by Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte.
On Saturday night, the baby-faced, broad-shouldered child from Zhejiang swam her final 50 metres in the 400-metre individual medley in 28.98 seconds. In winning the race by open lengths, she set the first world record for a women since the high-tech swim suits were banned at the beginning of 2010.
And the time? It was faster than American Ryan Lochte, whose final 50 metres in a dominant gold-medal win in the men’s race hat night was 29.10.
“We were all pretty shocked and impressed with her stroke,” Phelps said Monday following his heat in the men’s 200-metre butterfly.
Shock and awe would be the predominant reaction around the Aquatics Centre, leading to whispers that Ye’s results are not legit, allegations she flatly denied through a translator Monday morning.
“There’s absolutely no problem with doping,” Ye said following an easy win in her heat for the 200 IM. “The Chinese team has always had a firm policy about anti-doping.”
The first thing you notice about Ye in person is her youth. As she skipped through the mixed zone outside of the pool deck Monday morning, it was hard to believe you were watching the fastest swimmer in the world.
The second thing you notice is her shoulders — broad and muscular — and hands that seem oversized for her young body.
Once in the pool, there’s nothing to notice but her speed, a performance Saturday night that shocked Australia’s Stephanie Rice, a three-time gold medallist at the Beijing Games four years ago. Ye’s winning time in the race beat her previous personal best by five seconds.
“Insane,” Rice said Monday morning when asked about Ye’s closing kick for gold on Saturday night. “That split coming home was out of control, faster than everyone but (Michael) Phelps I think.”
Rice was careful when asked if she thought the effort was possible, but repeated her reaction, one shared by several swimmers when asked on Monday.
“I have no idea, I wouldn’t want to get into that at all,” Rice said. “But a (58-second final 100 metres) is an insanely fast swim.”
Ye will no doubt be a huge story when she’s back in the pool Tuesday night swimming for a second gold. According to oddsmaker William Hill, she is the prohibitive 1-20 favourite in her second race, odds so low they are as close to a lock as you can get.
Her achievements are grabbing attention among Canada’s athletes, too.
“That was pretty unbelievable,” Canadian breaststroker David Sharpe said on Monday. “No one really understands how it happened.”
While Ye’s record is clean, the Chinese have been at the centre of doping scandals in the past. In the 1990s, more than 40 swimmers were banned for positive tests and fair or unfair, every time an athlete steps up, the questions are raised again.
She won a gold in the 200 IM at last year’s world championships in Shanghai as an introduction to her potential. And now she may be the fastest swimmer in the Olympics, male or female.
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