The 2012 London Olympics are only a few days underway and the Games have already seen its fair share of athletic marvels. Having adopted the official Olympic slogan “inspire a generation,” London organizers hope to showcase the trials of Olympic athletes and inspire the world.
But over the last generation, the rest of the world has taken a bit of a backseat to the rivalry between the United States and China, which has recently defined the Games. After shattering the gold medal record count at their closely-watched 2008 Beijing Games, China has proven to the world that it is not an Olympic force to be taken lightly.
China’s most recent gold comes from 16-year-old female swimmer Ye Shiwen. Hailing from Hangzhou, China, Ye made history, winning the 400M gold with a women’s world record time of 4min 28.43sec. In the final 50 meters of the race, Ye swam even faster than men’s gold-medal Ryan Lochte did in his final 50. Not long after the race ended, accusations begin flying suggesting that Ye might have been aided by performance-enhancing drugs.
The doubts began when BBC host Clare Balding began questioning Ye’s performance almost immediately after the race ended. John Leonard, executive director of the World Swimming Coaches Association and executive director of the USA Swimming Coaches Association, later called Ye’s performance “unbelievable” and “disturbing.” Leonard drew parallels between Ye’s performance and that of Irish swimmer Michelle Smith in the same event at the 1996 Atlanta Games. Smith was ultimately banned after testing positive for androstenedione in 1998.
Ye recently spoke out to defend herself, attributing her record-shattering performance to her training: “Training is not very hard for me because I’ve been trained since childhood. We [the Chinese swimmers] have very good scientific-based training. That’s why we’re so good.”
The newly-minted star also took to Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter, to thank her fans. She wrote, “It’s the first day of the competition. I’m very satisfied with the results…Thank you for all your support. I will continue to work hard after the competition.”
Netizens in both China and the West seemed willing to give Ms. Ye the benefit of the doubt. Many commenters on Twitter exhorted their peers to reserve judgment, especially after Ye’s equally remarkable performance in a later 200M race.
@E_Teezey (from Atlanta) tweeted, “I won’t throw stones at Ye Shiwen until it is proven that she’s doping. Until then, congratulate her for her accomplishment.” @AlexiMostrous (from London) hailed Ye’s performance, tweeting, “If 16-year-old swimmer Ye Shiwen is clean, her beating Ryan Lochte’s time in final 50m free is surely one of greatest #Olympic triumphs?”
Netizens in China were less equivocal. Praise for the young Ye erupted on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter, with many calling her China’s most “innocent” and “eligible” young girl while condemning English-language media. Many of her fans on Chinese Weibo anxiously await her next race and throw their support behind her.
Many Weibo tweets condemned English commentator Clare Balding. @Senru萌711 wrote, “English commentators, do your [job]! Ye Shiwen’s generation of champions is just that fast.”
@jessie硕硕 questioned Balding’s knowledge in the swimming field and criticized the English sports program, tweeting, “This is the old woman who questioned the strength of a young Chinese girl. Then the western media implied Ye is doping. You say you’re just a commentator, not a swimming professional, and [yet] people haven’t questioned what you’ve said?! The English have not done a good job training their athletes. There is no short-cut to improving, and they are just getting jealous of other countries.”
Some Weibo users discussed how it was Ye’s outpacing of male swimmers—and not the specific details of her own performance–that led to the allegations. User @就好这一口儿日记 angrily tweeted, “The decline of the British, the ugly English media! English media forces the Olympic to investigate Ye Shiwen: How can she swim faster than a man?”
As Eastern and Western audiences speculate as to Ye’s world record-breaking performance, the young Chinese swimmer can be sure of this much: All eyes, from the West and East, will continue to be upon her at these London Games.