Watching NBC’s primetime Olympics coverage may lead you to believe that 17-year-old U.S. swimmer Missy Franklin is the only teen phenom in women’s Olympic swimming, but that is just not the case. China’s Ye Shiwen has not only been the most impressive under-18 swimmer of the Olympic Games, but arguably the best Olympic swimmer, of any age or gender, thus far in London.
With two stunning performances, Ye has made it clear that she is the best women’s individual medley swimmer in the world.
On Saturday, the opening day of the Games, Ye set the Games’ first new swimming world record with an incredible gold-medal-winning time of four minutes, 28.43 seconds in the 400-meter individual medley. Ye doubled her hardware on Tuesday, winning the 200-meter individual medley gold and setting an Olympic record in the process with a time of 2:07.57.
Ye’s double-gold performance has been truly remarkable, and she should be lauded for her record-breaking swims.
Instead, her greatness is being put into question by accusations that are not only completely out of her control, but have no foundation of truth whatsoever.
One specifically amazing aspect of Ye’s record-breaking performance in the 400 IM immediately raised eyebrows among swimming pundits: Her final 50-meter split (28.93 seconds) was faster than that of the winner of the men’s 400 IM, U.S. swimmer Ryan Lochte (29.10).
This prompted John Leonard, the executive director of both the World Swimming Coaches Association and USA Swimming Coaches Association, to publicly raise suspicion that Ye’s performance came with the aid of a banned substance.
In an interview with The Guardian, Leonard called her final 100-meter split “impossible” and “unbelievable.”
Impossible? Considering it happened, it was proven to be possible. And while her performance was unbelievably great, why must greatness be immediately called into question?
There is absolutely no evidence that would lead to Ye being a doper, aside from the fact that she finished with an incredible split in the 400 individual medley that enabled her to swim the race faster than any other athlete in history. It is truly unfortunate that these claims have caught such significant wind, as they are simply based upon the opinion of one biased executive trying to bring her down.
Had Ye’s performance not trumped that of a U.S. athlete, in this case Lochte, it is unlikely Leonard would have said anything. Throughout his interview with The Guardian, Leonard’s bias toward his home nation shines through with clarity, and it is highly unlikely he would make the same claims against an U.S. athlete.
Instead, if Ye was a U.S. athlete, she would be celebrated by the media, rather than questioned. A teenage swimming phenom doing things that no woman has ever done before... sound familiar?
Sounds a lot like Missy Franklin to me. Franklin had an incredible performance of her own on Monday, winning gold in the 100-meter backstroke in 58.33 seconds, the fastest time ever by a U.S. woman, less than 20 minutes after qualifying for the final of the 200-meter freestyle.
Franklin’s performance was also unprecedented, but her greatness has been celebrated, as it should be, rather than questioned for doping. Ye deserves to be celebrated in the same fashion, but instead, a very powerful man in swimming decided to make her a headliner for all the wrong reasons.
Not only do Leonard’s claims appear to be spurred by nationalism, they also seem founded by sexism. As the sport of swimming continues to advance, and swimmers of both genders are swimming faster times than ever before, what makes it unreasonable to believe that an elite woman could swim a faster split than even the best of male swimmers?
Billie Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs in the well-known “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match on Sept. 20, 1973. While King was the best player in women’s tennis at the time, and Riggs was certainly long removed from his prime at 55 years old, it is hard to believe that nearly 49 full years later, a doping claim is being made on the basis of the “impossibility” that a woman could swim a 50-meter split of a 400-meter race faster than her male counterpart.
In the U.S. judicial system, all are innocent until proven guilty. Unless Ye goes on to test positive for a banned substance in further blood and urine testing, there is no reason to distrust her performance, and all the reason to herald it as a tremendous achievement.
A 16-year-old swimming prodigy should not have to deal with accusations based upon unwarranted claims. While only Ye herself can truly know her innocence or guilt in this matter, all fans of greatness in sports should hope for and believe in her performance being achieved legitimately unless it is proved otherwise.
John Geddert, the coach of U.S. gymnast Jordyn Wieber, should listen up too. If there has been any “injustice” thus far in the 2012 Olympic Games, it certainly was not Wieber failing to qualify for the women’s all-around final, but it was in Geddert’s mind, as he used that term to describe her exclusion in an interview with The Associated Press (via Sports Illustrated).
Unwarranted accusations against a 16-year-old for no reason other than she is incredibly talented? That, in its direct contradiction of the judicial system, is defined by injustice.
Thanks for reading!
Dan Hope is a Bleacher Report Featured Columnist covering the 2012 Olympic Games. Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Hope.