Olympic swimming greats lined up in support of besieged Chinese star Ye Shiwen on Tuesday after a top American coach branded her world-record breaking performance in London as "suspicious".

The 16-year-old Chinese swimmer lit up the Olympics on Saturday after slicing five seconds off her personal best and taking more than a second off the world record to win gold in the 400m individual medley.

Ye's stunning last 50 metres was faster than men's champion Ryan Lochte, a fact that has been seized upon by sceptics who point to the litany of drug scandals which dogged Chinese swimming through the 1990s.

"If you have been around swimming you know when something has been done that just isn't right," said John Leonard, executive director of the World Swimming Coaches' Association.

"We have to remember that young swimmers can take chunks of time off that other people can't"

Australian Ian Thorpe

"I have heard commentators saying 'well she is 16, and at that age amazing things happen'. Well yes, but not that amazing. I am sorry."

However a slew of former Olympic champions spoke out in support of Ye on Wednesday, insisting large improvements in times were feasible.

"We have to remember that young swimmers can take chunks of time off that other people can't," Australian swimming legend Ian Thorpe told the BBC.

Former British swimmer Adrian Moorhouse, a gold medallist in the 100m breaststroke in the 1988 Seoul Games, issued a strong defence of Ye, saying it was possible China had unearthed their own Michael Phelps.

"I think it's sour grapes," Moorhouse said when asked about Leonard's comments.

"I think it's quite insulting actually.

"I understand it's about China's system. But we saw the Chinese swimmers in the 1990s. They were the size of houses. They looked like they had huge muscle growth. This girl is quite small... she's just in good shape."

Wide pyramid

Moorhouse also said given China's vast population of 1.3 billion and the country's state-backed elite sports programmes, it was possible the country's swimming system had simply unearthed a phenomenon.

"There are a lot of people in China. The base of their pyramid is so wide - if they train thousands and thousands and thousands of kids they might have just found their Michael Phelps," Moorhouse said.

"They might have found this really talented kid who can work really hard, whose got the perfect shape and can cope with all the pressure that's thrown at her," he said.

"I think it is very destructive and very irresponsible of anybody to accuse people until they are proven guilty"

Former Great Britain swimmer Duncan Goodhew

Britain's 1980 Moscow Olympics breaststroke gold medallist Duncan Goodhew condemned criticism of Ye's performances as "destructive and irresponsible".

"There are always incredible improvements in any large sporting event such as the Olympic Games and of course, in terms of that, innocent until proven guilty," Goodhew told ITV.

"I think it is very destructive and very irresponsible of anybody to accuse people until they are proven guilty."

British Olympic Association (BOA) chairman Colin Moynihan also leapt to Ye's defence, noting that in the eyes of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) she was a "clean" athlete.

"We know how on top of the game WADA are and WADA have passed her as clean. That's the end of the story. It is regrettable that there is so much speculation out there," Moynihan said.

"I don't like it... Let us recognise that there is an extraordinary swimmer out there who deserves the recognition of her talent in these Games."

Source: AFP