When Michael Phelps won eight gold medals in Beijing four years ago he was quite rightly celebrated and paid his dues on an amazing athletic feat.
Four years on and Ye Shiwen, the 16-year-old swimmer from China, sets a new world record in the 400m individual medley shortly followed by victory in the 200m version as well.
Yet instead of receiving the adulation that Phelps was showered with, Shiwen has had to respond to allegations of doping which has more than taken the gloss of her astonishing swim.
Why has Shiwen been met with such scrutiny and not allowed to enjoy her time in the limelight?
The furore started when respected US swimming coach and executive director of the World Swimming Coaches Association John Leonard described the 16 year old’s performance as “disturbing.”
The coach made reference to the fact that Shiwen managed to swim the last 50m of her 400m race faster than Ryan Lochte, the US’s premier swimmer, in his 400m individual medley five minutes before. She also set a new personal best time by five seconds.
Shiwen has since passed rigorous tests and whilst these are indeed astonishing feats, surely it is wrong that we have reached a place where if an athlete produces an astonishing performance, they are guilty until proven innocent.
China racing ahead
Nobody could have predicted Shiwen to swim as fast as she did but the fact that she is so dominant at these Olympics should not come as a surprise to anyone. She won the 200m individual medley at last year's world championships in Shanghai and has experienced a lot of success on the world stage.
Couple this to the fact that China recently put more efforts into building the talent reserves. Since the 2008 Beijing Olympics, it launched a national training scheme, aiming at young athletes across China aged between 11 and 16.
Chinese sports writer Zhou Xin even went so far as to suggest the Chinese improvement has a direct correlation with the growth of the economy.
Both Shiwen and Chinese media and coaches have denounced Leonard’s comments as sour grapes in a dispute that has threatened to escalate into a diplomatic fall-out.
There have also been concerns raised that the only reason Shiwen’s performance received so much negative attention was due to the fact that she is not an American athlete or from a nation that traditionally excels in swimming events.
However maybe it’s not personal. Shiwen could is just a victim of an age of athletics where any world record is questioned. It is a fact that due to the actions of Dwain Chambers, Justin Gatlin and other East German swimmers that athletics and the Olympics as a whole have been tainted with a culture of cheating.
Shiwen has won two gold medals so let’s give her the congratulations she deserves and in future try and not make today’s Olympic stars victims of the mistakes of their older peers.
Source: Al Jazeera