The Unbelievable Ye Shiwen, Ctd

Aug 1 2012 @ 4:44pm

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As media accusations of doping continue to dog the Olympic phenom, Ross Thomas puts forward an explanation for her Lochte-beating freestyle leg:

[T]he sport shows that you have a normal pattern, a typical ratio of medley freestyle to best freestyle — they SHOULD BE between 18 and 23% slower at the end of a 400m IM than in a 100m freestyle by itself. Yet Shiwen is not. She does a 58.68s final leg, which is only about 10% off the best 100m freestyle swimmers…. The only way to interpret that is to recognise that the physiology of a fast finish tells us that she must have a significant reserve for that final leg. It says that her first 300m was an extremely conservative effort.

There are other factors that could be at play as well:

Ye's proportions give her an edge, [Ye's coach Ken] Wood says. At 5 feet 8 and 141 pounds, Ye has better power-to-weight ratio than counterparts in other countries, he said. There are also her hands—which the 6-foot-2 Wood says are as big as his—and her size 10.5 feet, which turbocharge her strokes.

June Thomas attributes the media's skepticism to Ye's nationality:

[T]he biggest reason these doping accusations are so prevalent is that Ye is from China, a country with a history of doping in swimming; a highly regimented, state-run sports system; and a recent, paranoia-inducing dominance of the medal table. Toronto’s Globe and Mail pointed out that "Chinese athletes—and their respected Australian coaches—are insisting that this isn't the same China that was a disgrace in the 1990s, when ripped, drug-fuelled swimmers emerged from nowhere to beat the world." The obvious subtext here: Why should we believe them? To that, I would say: Why shouldn’t we? In 1987, a 15-year-old who weighed 95 pounds broke the 800-meter freestyle world record by more than two seconds. Janet Evans’ triumph was rightly celebrated as the amazing achievement of a once-in-a-generation athlete.

China's blogosphere is naturally up in arms over the accusations. A representative comment:

Europeans have never been able to get away from racism, and when they talk about freedom and democracy it is even more laughable. When one is only democratic to oneself, that isn’t called 'democratic.'

Not so fast, says The Science of Sport:

There is a reality that can't, and shouldn't be ignored, and that is that Chinese athletes have a history of doping. I quoted figures the other day of 40 Chinese swimmers failing tests, three times more than the next nation. Yesterday I received a tweet saying it's 57, a shade over twice the next nation's numbers. Regardless, it's clear that Chinese athletes have "earned" the mistrust that accompanies them. That's just a fact.

(Photo: Gold medalist Ye Shiwen holds her national flag after the podium ceremony of the women's 200m individual medley final during the swimming event at the London 2012 Olympic Games on July 31, 2012. By Christopher Simon/AFP/Getty Images)