Somewhere in the gallery of 500-foot home runs and Popeye biceps, sporting greatness lost its innocence.
Today, I can report, it is officially under siege.
When an athlete achieves the remarkable, the unthinkable and the inexplicable, we no longer ask, "who?"
We ask, "how?"
We don't really care that Ye Shiwen's swimming talent was discovered by her kindergarten teacher. We don't care that her success heralds a new era in Chinese swimming. We certainly don't care to think of what she could someday accomplish in this sport.
Rather, we want to know how the heck this reclusive teenager smashed the world record in the 400-meter individual medley and followed that up with an Olympic record in the 200 IM.
We want to know how a woman could swim a faster freestyle leg than Ryan Lochte in an event she's never won before at a major international competition.
And perhaps because we've been misled so many times before, we're inclined to assume that she didn't do it square.
Don't believe me?
Type "Ye Shiwen" into Google.
The first three results on my screen read:
"IOC defends China's Ye Shiwen"
"Shiwen: 'Chinese athletes are clean'"
"Olympics 2012 China's Ye Shiwen doping, or just plain fast?"
Then there were the comments of John Leonard, executive director of the World Swimming Coaches Association, who told 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 400-meter individual medley by a young Irish woman in Atlanta."
Ye Shiwen never had a chance.
She swam fast—remarkably fast—and accusations will follow her at every flipturn.
Worst part is, the story doesn't get any better.
Ye will swim under a cloud of suspicion until either she stops winning, her career ends or she gets caught.
Those are the grim realities facing an athlete who has given us the single most remarkable athletic performance at these Games so far.
I say all this with no grand point in mind.
Consider it more of a long "sigh," a feeble admission that athletic accomplishment will never be what it once was.
The cynics have won—convincingly.
Maybe they were on something.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!