Olympics: U.S. vs CHINA: THE NEW COLD WAR
Is China the new Soviet Union at the Olympics? It sure is looking like it today.
At the centre of this new Cold War is Ye Shiwen, a 16-year-old Chinese swimmer who snagged gold on Saturday in the 400 meter individual medley at a pace that shattered the world record by more than a second and knocked five second seconds off her personal best in the final 50 meters of the race. She was even faster in that last lap than American medal winner Ryan Lochte in the men's race.
More than a few eyebrows were raised and commentators watching the the race called it "unbelievable." But John Leonard, head of the American Swimming Coaches Association went a big step further saying her race "was reminiscent of some old East German swimmer."
Call that the Olympic equivalent of nuclear warhead.
Anyone old enough to remember Soviet and East German competitors at the Olympics will remember the hulk-like bodies of their athletes in the 1960's, 1970's and 1980's and the doping scandals that constantly discredited them.
Leonard was very clearly accusing Ye of taking some form performance-enhancing drugs.
"History in our sport will tell you that every time we see something, and I put quotation marks around this, 'unbelievable,' history shows us that it turns out later on there was doping involved," Leonard told the Guardian newspaper here in London.
Adding to the tension is China's domination of the gold medal count in the opening days of these XXX Olympic Games. The U.S. has been a distant second.
If Leonard's comments were a figurative nuclear bomb, they response from the Chinese was, well, ballistic.
"If there are suspicions, then please lay them out using facts and data," Xu Qi, head of the Chinese swimming team told the state news agency Xinhua. "Don't use your own suspicions to knock down others. This shows lack of respect for athletes and for Chinese swimming."
Today, the final world from Olympic officials cleared the Chinese swimmer's name. "She's clean. That's the end of the story," said Colin Moynihan, chairman of the British Olympic Association reporting on the results of official drug tests.
Of course, there is good reason to be wary of Chinese athletes who shatter world records. China was plagued by a series of drug-tainted scandals in the 1990's. Seven Chinese swimmers tested positive for banned substances at the Asian Games in 1994 and in 1998 four more Chinese swimmers failed drug tests in advance of the World Championships in Australia. A swimmer and her coach were expelled after being caught with a cache of growth hormones at the airport in Sydney.
That's all history now, say the Chinese, who insist they have cleaned up the sport and invested heavily in rigorous drug testing. Yet just last month 16-year-old swimmer Li Zhesi was dropped from the Chinese Olympic team.
To some that might suggest the Chinese really are cleaning up the sport, but to others it is evidence that they continue to cheat.
Leonard may have voiced what many are thinking, but he's finding it awfully lonely.
"We need to get real here," said International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams. "These are the world's best athletes competing at the very highest level. We've seen all sorts of records broken already all over the place."
Adams said the top five athletes in each event, plus two others, are tested as part of "a very, very strong drug-testing program, and we are very confident if there are cheats we will catch them."
"We can't stop speculation. It is inevitably a sad result of the fact that there are people who dope and who cheat," Adams said. "It's very sad we can't applaud a great performance. Let's give the benefit of the doubt to the athletes."
Ye is known for her large hands and feet, but otherwise she's smaller than other swimmers at 5-foot-7 and 141 pounds.
"I don't think that 4:28 is an impossible time in the 400 IM, I think it's a perfectly logical time for someone to go," said Bob Bowman, American swimmer Michael Phelps' coach. "I trust the testing service and I know that Michael was tested nonstop and we're very careful about what goes into his body, and I assume that other competitors are, too."
With files from the Associated Press