Ye Shiwen: Skepticism Fair After World-Record Time

Sam R. Quinn@SamQuinn_Senior Analyst IIIJuly 30, 2012

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 30:  Shiwen Ye of China competes in heat 5 of the Women's 200m Individual Medley on Day 3 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Aquatics Centre on July 30, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)
Adam Pretty/Getty Images

Ye Shiwen, China's 16-year-old swimming prodigy, won the women's 400-meter individual medley at the 2012 London Olympics with a blazing time of four minutes, 28.43 seconds.

That world-record mark was nearly three seconds faster than silver medalist Elizabeth Beisel. She swam her final 50 meters faster than American Ryan Lochte was able to in his gold-medal run, and  second-best time ever in the event's history.

Ye's other-worldly performance is going to catch the eye of swimming enthusiasts all over the world. Some will look at her showing as the next step in bringing women's swimming to prominence. Others will look at it as a perfect opportunity to question whether the young woman indulged in performance enhancing drugs.

As of now, there is no reason to believe that Ye partook in anything like blood doping or the consumption of anabolic steroids...other than her time.

This time is just too good to be true.

When Stephanie Rice set the previous world record in Beijing, she was 20 years old. She had fully grown into her body and was entering the prime of her Olympic career. 

Ye shaved over a second off of Rice's time. At such a young age, it's no surprise that major media outlets all over the world are skeptical of her swim.

Executive director of the World Swimming Coaches Association, John Leonard, had this to say regarding Ye's time (via The Guardian):

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. That last 100m was reminiscent of some old East German swimmers, for people who have been around a while. It was reminiscent of the 400m individual medley by a young Irish woman in Atlanta.

Any time someone has looked like superwoman in the history of our sport they have later been found guilty of doping.

The young Irish woman Leonard alluded to is Michelle Smith, who, at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, blew away the competition to the tune of three gold medals. Two years later, she tested positive for banned substances.

Swimmer Janet Evans openly questioned Smith 16 years ago, and people are questioning Ye now.

Leonard went on to call the performance "unbelievable" and "disturbing." Those are some interesting words to be used when he has no information as to whether she competed in good faith or not.

There's no reason to jump to any conclusions just yet, but the skepticism is warranted. Women aren't supposed to swim faster than men, no matter what the distance.

That statement is neither sexist nor ignorant. It is mere fact.

Ye will have some questions to answer during her stay in London, and only time will tell whether the inquiries are warranted.