BBC presenter Clare Balding questions Ye Shiwen's incredible swim
CHINESE swimmer Ye Shiwen's mind-boggling effort in the Olympic 400m individual medley at the London Games’ swimming event left most people stunned, including Clare Balding, the BBC presenter.
But the 16 year-old’s feat, which saw her go faster over the final 50m than the winner of the men's equivalent, American Ryan Lochte, prompted questions over whether it had been an entirely fair win.
The Chinese prodigy clocked 28.93secs for last 50m compared to the 27 year-olds 29.10secs while she also nearly beat his time for the last 100m at 58.68secs compared to 58.65secs when he raced just minutes earlier.
She devastated her opponents on Saturday night, unleashing a sprint finish in her last two lengths that would, respectively, have also beaten Michael Phelps, before Lochte, the fastest man in that event.
Moments after beating her personal best by an astonishing five seconds, Miss Balding, the BBC presenter who was anchoring the public broadcaster’s coverage from the Aquatic Centre, called the result into question.
Chinese swimming has previously been at the centre of drug scandals, including another 16-year-old world champion testing positive for doping last month.
It prompted her to ask former British Olympian Mark Foster, who is a pundit for the corporation: “How many questions will there be, Mark, about somebody who can suddenly swim so much faster than she has ever swum before?”.
But Foster sought to distance himself from suggestions Miss Ye might have cheated.
He said: ‘It was a five-second best time and it was the way she did it as well. Bearing in mind she is 16 years of age, and when you are young you do some big best times… it can be done.”
The BBC later denied she had inferred she was a drugs cheat. Regardless the swimmer’s win became one of the talking points of the Games from rivals and other athletes.
Lochte said: "We were all talking about it at dinner last night, it's pretty impressive. She's fast. If she was there with me, maybe she would have beaten me."
Gregg Troy, the American team coach who is also Lochte's personal coach, added: “It was a heck of a swim.”
China won more gold medals in the pool on the first day than it did during the entire Olympics in Beijing four years ago.
Its success provoked fears that it mirrored the 1994 Rome world championships, when its drug-powered women swept to 13 of the 16 available golds.
In June Chinese state media said 16- year-old Li Zhesi, part of the country’s winning team at the 2009 World Championships, had tested positive for a performance- enhancing drug, EPO, which boosts the body’s oxygen supplies.
The Chinese said their athletes were regularly tested and officials have gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure their team will fail any drugs test including imposing a ban on them eating food prepared at the Olympic Village.
A BBC spokesman defended Miss Balding’s comments and denied she had implied Miss Ye was a drugs cheat.
“The Chinese swimmer had just knocked five seconds off her personal best to break a word record; in her role as a presenter it is Clare’s job to ask the experts (in this case Mark Foster), how she managed to do it,” he told the Daily Mail.
“There was absolutely no implication of doping." Miss Balding has not publicly commented.