All eyes on China's Ye as she surges to incredible medley gold
THERE were many astonishing things about 16-year-old Shiwen Ye's world record-breaking victory in the 400m individual medley on Saturday -- but nothing more than that her split time for the final 50m of the freestyle leg was quicker than that of Ryan Lochte in the men's race earlier that evening. It was the first time that had happened in Olympic history.
When Lochte swam to gold, leaving Michael Phelps far in his wake in fourth, he clocked a final 50m freestyle time of 29.10sec. In her race, Ye went surging through the water, past world champion Elizabeth Beisel, and recorded a final 50m time of 28.93.
"We were talking about that at dinner," Lochte said. "It is pretty impressive. She's fast. If she was there with me, she might have beaten me."
The scary thing is that the 400m medley is not even Ye's strongest event: she swims in the heats of the 200m medley this morning, an event in which she is the world champion, having won the title in Shanghai last summer as a 15 year-old.
She thinks she can get better, too. "There's much room for improvement," Ye said. "It's true for breaststroke I am lagging behind, but my freestyle result is also not that good. Usually I'm very bad at turning, that is a very important skill, therefore I was practising my turns."
Another scary thing is that her time of 4min 28.43sec not just broke the world record, but did so by more than a second. The previous best of 4.29.45 was recorded by Stephanie Rice in the Olympic final four years ago, and that done with the aid of a polyurethane suit, which has since been banned.
It was an incredible performance and one, therefore, that drew attention to its own credibility.
Chinese swimming has such a shameful doping history that any remarkable achievement by one of its athletes is inevitably met with cynicism.
In the 1990s more than 40 swimmers tested positive for doping. At the 1994 world swimming championships, China won an improbable 12 gold medals and later that year seven swimmers tested positive for steroids at the Asian Games.
In Atlanta in 1996, they won just one gold. Just this weekend, Chen Zhanghao, the doctor with the Chinese Olympic team at the Los Angeles, Seoul and Barcelona Games, told the 'Sydney Morning Herald' he had tested hormones, blood doping and steroids on about 50 elite athletes.
While the Chinese swimming authorities insist that their sport has cleaned itself up, five swimmers were banned for failing a test in 2009, and Li Zhesi tested positive for EPO in March.
Last night, South African Cameron van der Burgh broke the world record in the men's 100m breaststroke on his way to winning gold, as did American Dana Vollmer in the women's 100m butterfly. In the men's 4x100m freestyle relay, France stunned the US to claim the gold. (© Daily Telegraph, London)