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Ye Shiwen: Furor over 'unbelievable' gold brings cold war to London Olympics (+video)

An American coach raises the specter of doping in questioning the gold-medal performance by Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen in the women's 400 IM Saturday at the London Olympics.

By Staff writer / July 31, 2012

China's Ye Shiwen poses with her gold medal on the podium during the women's 400-meter individual medley victory ceremony at the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Aquatics Centre Saturday.

David Gray/REUTERS

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The Americans, it would seem, have a point. How does 16-year-old Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen come to the London Olympics and post a time five seconds better than her previous personal best in the 400-meter individual medley? How does she pound out a world record, swimming the final 50 meters faster than Ryan Lochte, who had almost set a world record for the men in the same event earlier in the night?

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Then again, the Chinese and their defenders – including the British Olympic Association (BOA) – would seem to have a point, too. Ye has never failed a drug test, and this is not the 1980s: Athletes have never been so thoroughly tested. It is more than a little ungracious of a top American coach to blight a young swimmer's Olympic moment without any proof of wrongdoing.

And so we are left in a place that, unfortunately, feels a lot like a second Olympic cold war.

American John Leonard, executive director of the World Swimming Coaches Association, voiced aloud what many had been whispering when he said of Ye's swim Saturday: "The one thing I will say is that history in our sport will tell you that every time we see something, and I will put quotation marks around this, 'unbelievable,' history shows us that it turns out later on there was doping involved."

At this point, the question is not whether Mr. Leonard is right. That is impossible to know, and in the absence of any evidence whatsoever, Ye's achievement "deserves recognition,” as BOA chief Colin Moynihan said.

The true importance of Leonard's comments is that they tell us that, at least within the American swimming community, there is a growing sense that we have seen this movie before: An authoritarian country with little or no transparency puts its considerable weight behind a quest for Olympic glory and, perhaps a little sooner than expected, astonishing results follow.

Leonard even said: "That last 100 meters was reminiscent of some old East German swimmers, for people who have been around a while."  

Within the Olympic movement, that comment is the equivalent of an Iranian missile test – a clear act of provocation. And, on the surface, there would appear to be no way to stop this from escalating to DEFCON 1. 

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