Is Rebecca Adlington a drug cheat?

First of all – I apologise for the Daily Mail-esque linkbait title. This post has practically nothing to do with  Rebecca Adlington, who is definitely not a drug cheat. This post is about two teenage girls who have just won Olympic gold medals in London. The first is called Ye Shiwen. She is 16 years of age, Chinese, and she won a gold medal in the women’s 400m medley event, with a world record time of 4:28.43. Her performance seemed so incredible to the BBC’s Clare Balding that immediately after the race she asked her co-commentator, Mark Foster –

How many questions will there be, Mark, about somebody who can suddenly swim so much faster than she has ever swum before?


Soon after, the executive director of the World Swimming Coaches Association, John Leonard, came even closer to accusing Ye of being a drug cheat. He bravely begins this non-accusation by saying –

We want to be very careful about calling it doping

Not careful about suggesting a 16 year old girl is a drug cheat, you’ll notice. Just careful about the phrasing of the suggestion. Leonard then goes on:

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.

John Leonard not accusing Ye Shiwen of being a drug cheat, there. You saw how he definitely didn’t accuse her of being a drug cheat? Because he wants to be very careful about doing that, apparently.

Note how both Clare Balding and John Leonard are principally concerned about the improvement in Ye’s times. At this point, it might be worth stating exactly how much Ye’s times have improved. In the 2010 Asian games (when she was just 14 years of age), Ye posted a time of 4.33.79, a full five seconds slower than her record-breaking gold medal swim. She has improved her time since then by 1.95%. Also, a lot has been made of the fact that Ye swam the final 50m of her race in 28.93 seconds, which is faster than Ryan Lochte, the winner of the men’s 400m medley, who could only post 29.10 seconds for his final 50m.

On the face of it, those statistics do look quite damning, don’t they? But, if you recall, I said at the top of this post that this was a story about two girls, not one, and it’s now time to talk about the other amazing teenaged Olympic champion swimmer at these games. She’s a 15 year old Lithuanian called Ruta Meilutyte, and she won gold in the women’s 100m breaststroke last night. This was a popular result in the Aquatic Centre, because Meilutyte lives in Plymouth, and is trained by English coach Jon Rudd. No-one expected her to make the final in London (never mind win a medal) because only a year ago, she set a new national record of 1:07.96, which would barely have got her into the semifinals in London. However, she won her semifinal in a time of 1:05.21 (a European record), and then went on to take gold in the final. Her win came as a massive shock, and was greeted rapturously by Clare Balding, who described it as “her favourite non-British story of the Games so far”. To the best of my knowledge John Leonard has yet to comment.

I want to be clear about this – I am not accussing Ryta Meilutyte of doping. I think she’s a phenomenal athlete, and I was as happy as anyone to see her win, and laughed like a drain at her brilliant post-race interview. But Ruta Meilutyte has improved her times by four percent in the last year. Ye Shiwen improved her times by two percent in the last two years. And yet, if I google “Ruta Meilutyte doping”, every first page result links to a news piece that talks about Ruta winning, and Ye doping.

What did Clare Balding ask, again?

How many questions will there be, Mark, about somebody who can suddenly swim so much faster than she has ever swum before?

Well, it seems that answer depends almost entirely on race. If you’re white, if you have an English trainer, then everyone’s going to be delighted for you. If you’re Chinese, you’re going to face a barrage of cowardly smears and insinuations that will ruin the greatest day of your life. Hurrah for the Olympics!

Finally, regarding Ye Shiwen’s final 50m, which has generated huge amounts of disbelieving comments in the media and on Twitter; yes, she was seventeen hundreths of a second faster than Lochte over the last 50m. It’s worth bearing in mind that her time over the full 400m was 23.25 seconds slower, or, to put it another way, two thousand, three hundred and twenty five hundreths of a second. And this brings me around to Rebecca Adlington… because Rebecca swam a final 50m of a medley similar race in 28.91 seconds last year.  That’s two hundreths faster than Ye’s supposedly controversial final length in London! And she’s faster than Lochte, who is a man!

So, is Rebecca Adlington a drug cheat? Well, that depends on whether you’re using the logic of John Leonard or not. Leonard had this to say about Ye’s swim…

But the final 100m was impossible. Flat out. If all her split times had been faster I don’t think anybody would be calling it into question, because she is a good swimmer. But to swim three other splits at the rate that she did, which was quite ordinary for elite competition, and then unleash a historic anomaly, it is just not right.

If what Ye did in the last 100m was “impossible”,  a “historic anomaly”, and “just not right”, then Rebecca Adlington’s final 50m must also have aroused the suspicion of the Executive Director of the World Swimming Coaches Association, surely?  Especially when you consider that Adlington’s final length wasn’t at the end of a 400m medley, like Ye’s. She did it at the end of an 800m medley. (*edit* As pointed out in comments, it was an 800m freestyle, not a medley). If it’s impossible for Ye to do that at the end of a 400m race, then how impossible is it for Adlington to do it at the end of an 800m race? Can you have double-impossible?

Again – I’m not saying Rebecca Adlington’s a drug cheat. Although I don’t have access to her drug test results, I’m pretty sure that she’s just an extraordinarily dedicated professional athlete who does more exercise before breakfast than I manage in a year.  I’m just saying that anyone who accuses Ye Shiwen of being a drug cheat, while ignoring preformances like those of Meilutyte last night, or Adlington last year, is either grossly ill-informed, or a racist.

I wonder which one John Leonard is? Either way, I’m pretty sure he should either apologise, or resign.



Just to drive the point home, here’s two more quotes from Leonard:

You can’t turn around and call it racism to say the Chinese have a doping history … that is just history. That’s fact. Does that make us suspicious? Of course. You have to question any outrageous performance, and that is an outrageous performance, unprecedented in any way, shape or form in the history of our sport. It by itself, regardless of whether she was Chinese, Lithuanian, Kenyan, or anything else, is impossible. Sorry.

Fun fact! Yi Shiwen lives in Australia, and is a product of the Australian swimming system.

Also –

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

According to Wikipedia, Ye and Meilutyte are both 172cm tall and each weighs 64kg.

  1. Well said Dermot, I had a bit to say on the subject myself –

      • admin
      • July 31st, 2012

      Thanks, Scott! And thanks for the link; I like a bet myself, so I’ll be keeping an eye on your tips :~)

    • Sean
    • July 31st, 2012

    I thoroughly enjoyed this blog, making thought provoking points backed up with statistics. The only issue I have is the use of the word ‘racist’. I think it’s no easier to call John Leonard, Clare Balding or any other dissenter a racist than it is to call Ye a drug cheat.

      • admin
      • July 31st, 2012

      I should perhaps draw a distinction here between racism and racist comments. I’d say there’s a huge gap between the two, and would use John Terry and Rio Ferdinand as examples. I don’t think either of them are racists, but I believe both of them have made racist comments of late. (Disclosure: I’m a lifelong Chelsea fan).

      I know next to nothing about John Leonard, other than what I’ve read in the last two days. I’m not saying he’s a racist, but I’d say he’s made racist comments.

    • Mes
    • July 31st, 2012

    Very well said. It’s a part of western sports coverage which is frankly embarrassing. Good to see so many ex-swimmers & athletes fighting her corner, even if Davies was decidedly lukewarm in her backing.

  2. Here here. Fantastic article. Blogging at its best.

    • fred
    • July 31st, 2012

    Very good article. 2 more points on this:

    The Lochte time is a red herring. Lochte had left the field for dust going into the final length and visibly slackened off. Surely we cannot be stunned that a strong finishing woman breaking the world record can swim faster than a man who has the gold in the bag, is well off world record pace, and is slackening off.

    Meilutyte’s was my favourite moment of the games, and unlike Claire Balding I don’t need to caveat that because I am capable of enjoying performances by athletes who do not share my cultural ancestry. But to be honest she didn’t swim that fast – Soni got of to a shocker of a start and the rest of the field all choked (as was demonstrated by the other huge shock in the same race – Suzuki’s bronze). So what made it such a moment was that it was so unexpected or, to put it another way, because she manage to “swim so much faster than she has ever swum before”.

    I think Thorpe got it right when he pointed out that he too improved by 5 seconds between roughly the same ages. There just isn’t a good way of knowing what to expect of athletes as young as Ye or Meilutyte because there are not reliable benchmarks. Indeed insofar as there are they suggest that going into your first big competition as a 15/16 year old, suddenly “swim(ming) so much faster than she has ever swum before” is not that uncommon.

      • Jane
      • July 31st, 2012

      I think the comments respecting John Leonard are deserved. The implication that Claire Balding isn’t “capable of enjoying performances by athletes who do not share [her]cultural ancestry” imputes her with motives that simply don’t correlate with her statement. Yes, it was foolish and it was not particularly magnanimous but unlike Leonard, nothing she said implied she was looking at this from a racial perspective. If you read that in to her statement you are perpetuating the same kind of prejudice that you are apparently are so offended by.

        • Fred
        • July 31st, 2012

        Not at all offended, my tongue was firmly in my cheek. I do think if you are a professional broadcaster and you say something silly and jingoistic then we proles have a right to gently mock you.

    • Oholibamah
    • July 31st, 2012

    A couple of points:

    1) Yes, a lot of the internet commentary is remarkable in its unsophistication, and a lot of Brits/Americans who question Ye wouldn’t, if she were British/American. And yes, pundits like CB routinely deliver pretty moronic / insipid commentary, as mandated by the BBC. However, there are serious questions which deserve to be asked, and can’t be simple swatted aside because certain media focus is biased.

    2) It’s not just racism / sour grapes, as evidenced by the fact that no-one is questioning the other Chinese sensation, Sun Yang.

    3) It’s not just about personal best improvement. YS has massively improved her personal best – and was WAY better than the other competitors. RM massively improved her personal best, but only won the final by a tiny margin. She could be doping, but the evidence doesn’t similarly mount up.

    4) There is also the matter of the final splits – YS swam her final 100m and 50m as quickly as the men – something totally unprecedented. Whereas RM was comprehensively beaten in her splits by the equivalent male winner, CvdB. Yeah, different events which create different circumstances, but again, the evidence-base is not comparable.

    5) American coach John L. bent over backwards to laud Sun Yang, in the (obviously) vain hope that people would recognise that his challenge does not have a racial component. Neither is he grossly ill-informed; my points above demonstrate that the evidence clearly calls YS’s performance into question more that other swimmers.

      • Jenny
      • August 1st, 2012

      Same can be said that if the Chinese or Ye has been taking drugs then why aren’t all the Chinese swimmers taking the same drugs & getting this amazing results to win gold at every swimming event? If this drug works for a small athlete like Ye, can you imagine what it can do for the older, bigger built Chinese athletes? Why wouldn’t they all take this drug then?

    • Nick
    • July 31st, 2012

    On your Adlington point – the 800m race you refer to wasn’t a medley as stated, just an 800m freestyle. Not that it changes your point (I don’t think, although I’m unsure whether Adlington being purely a freestyle swimmer and training solely for that would give her an edge on medley swimmers who have to train for all four strokes).

      • admin
      • July 31st, 2012

      Thanks for pointing that out, I’ll amend the post accordingly :~)

    • Oholibamah
    • July 31st, 2012

    With regard to your edit:

    1) YS is not a product of the Australian swimming system, but has in recent years trained for a part of the year in Australia, with coaches paid stupendous sums (and gigantic bonuses of gold medals are achieved).

    2) John L’s comment about ‘superwoman’ clearly refers to extraordinary performances, not her unremarkable size. John L., a very long-serving and well-respected member of the swimming community, would have to be extremely, and incredibly, ignorant to think that YS had used drugs to alter her body like the East Germans / Flo-Jo. This is a hugely experienced coach who watched YS swim – I don’t think he’s failed to observe his physique.

    • Ham
    • July 31st, 2012

    You mention Adlington swam a medley. She doesn’t usually, do you have a link to the result?

      • admin
      • July 31st, 2012

      As Nick pointed out, that was an error on my part. Adlington posted that time in an 800m freestyle race.

      I’d say we can still use it to put Ye’s time in perspective, though :~)

    • fred
    • July 31st, 2012

    Oholibamah you make several good points but it seems to me that the crux of your argument is your point 4 that this is unprecedented. And I don’t think that’s true. In fact in his piece the author lists a precedent, the Adlington performance, and I doubt that is the only time it has happened.

    Again we aren’t talking about Ye beating Lochte, she loses to Lochte by over 23 seconds, we are talking about Ye very briefly going faster than Lochte over bits of very different races – comparing Ye at her very very fastest to Lochte going (for him) quite slowly.

    • Oholibamah
    • July 31st, 2012


    Thanks for your thoughtful and temperate remarks in the best spirit of discussion.

    1) With regard to the Adlington time – yes, I don’t think that even Adlington should be above suspicion – keen Brit sports fan though I am. However, as Nick points out, she wasn’t swimming a medley but an 800m freestyle. Given the nature of the medley, closing freestyle splits are always much much slower than closing splits in pure freestyle events – changing strokes consumes much more energy. Therefore, Adlington’s time, although remarkable, is not so freakishly remarkable to deserve such withering scrutiny as YS, and it’s not so surprising that a female split in the 800m freestyle bears comparison to the male 400m medley.

    Adlington’s final 100m split in her 800m WR race is actually very similar to Janet Evan’s final 100m split, from her 1989 WR.

    2) Yes, it is the only time in the history of Olympic swimming that IN THE SAME EVENT, a medalling woman’s final split is firmly in the medalling male range.

    3) Most damning of all: the argument isn’t simply about YS beating Lochte’s final split. Agreed, convincing reasons could be found about why this could happen. It’s that her final split is WAY better than the women, enough to place her very respectably among the best male times. In fact, Lochte has a pretty poor final split, and most of the other swimmer finish faster, all but three or four are marginally faster than YS. But it’s exactly that – the entire field of male swimmers, all of whom are swimming at their best and hardest, are only very marginally (fractions of seconds) better than YS.

      • admin
      • July 31st, 2012

      Big thanks to both yourself and Fred for your reasoned and insightful comments – I have to hold my hands up and admit that I don’t feel qualified to respond. I’m not a big fan of swimming and really only follow it during the Olympics, so my knowledge of the sport only goes so far.

      It’s great to see this level of informed debate in the comments, though :~)

        • Fred
        • July 31st, 2012

        We do our best. Likewise I am actually a fairly fairweather swimming fan. I really like blogs like this that go out and find facts to back up their arguments. I’m still sure that its not that massively unprecedented but as I’m using up all my procrastination time to actually watch the Olympics I’m afraid I’m not going to offer to go on a stat search.

        Anyway this is far too much mutual appreciation, have we forgotten this is the internet?

        Final thought, Ye just one another gold but this time in a “non suspicious” time. I guess this adds weight to the idea that she’s just really really good at swimming?

          • Joey
          • August 3rd, 2012

          The anti-doping agent visited her in the midnight and harassed her till 2am that morning and she woke up at 6am.

    • DavidS
    • July 31st, 2012

    The last time there was this air of suspicion around a swimmer, she was also Chinese. Or no sorry. She was Irish. Michelle de Bruin.

    And when the French and British press spent a lot of time speculating about whether or not the new winner of the Tour de France was on drugs (including asking him to his face), he was Chinese too. Again, my mistake. He was a Brit.

    I really don’t like this type of speculation – especially when it concerns someone who is still a child. But it’s equally lazy to characterize it so simply as racist.

      • admin
      • July 31st, 2012

      Little bit slow replying here, but as I said above, someone can make a racist comment without being a racist.

      While I’m here, I just want to add that I see a huge gap between Balding and Leonard; Balding’s paid to speculate and pontificate about these matters, and was doing so on live television, and quite possibly while being fed discussion points by producers. It’s regrettable she didn’t question both swimmers equally, but there’s a million miles between that and Leonard’s frothing nonsense.

      • >i>but as I said above, someone can make a racist comment without being a racist.

        “I can accuse somebody of being a racist while simultaneously denying that I am accusing them of being a racist”.

        Or exactly what you condemn the American coach for doing. Really, what a scandalous answer.

        You know, it really is possible for people to have severe doubts and performances like these, based on knowledge of the field, without those doubts having anything to do with racism. This is a lazy piece containing as many lazy assumptions as you attribute to anybody else.

    • Martin
    • July 31st, 2012

    This is an excellent article that cuts through the sensationalism and adds some much needed context to Shiwen Ye’s amazing swim.

    What she did was amazing but amazing performances happen all the time in sport and it is so depressing to have to listen to jealous, suspicious minds yelling “doper” every time they see something remarkable. What was Claire Balding and the like shouting when Paula Radcliffe ran the 2003 London Marathon faster than every Brit in the field, male or female, and broke the previous world record by nearly four minutes? Unprecedented? Suspicious? Unbelievable? Anomalous? Requires an explanation?

    Or are such remarkable performances only suspicious when they involve, sprinters, Chinese or Eastern European athletes? I do believe there is an element of bigotry involved.

    Shiwen Ye has passed the drug tests. Her blood will be stored for eight years so if she was taking something illegal, future tests may find it. What more do people want? She should be given every credit and benefit of the doubt until there is a shred of evidence to the contrary.

    Furthermore, if the Chinese coaches have found some undetectable wonder drug or cocktail of wonder drugs that can make a 16 yr old girl drop 5 seconds and swim like a dolphin, why isn’t it working for all their other swimmers? The Chinese swimming team is having a good games but not an exceptional one given the size of their population.

    Nature does every so often produce animals with freakish ability be they Frankel, Bradley Wiggins, Usain Bolt, Paula Radcliffe, Michael Johnson or Shiwen Ye who at their best make their competitors look like amateurs. I say ditch the negativity and enjoy and be inspired by what athletes like this can do until they are ever proven to be cheats and liars.

    • Ian Prior
    • July 31st, 2012

    A lot of pseudo-science above, so here’s some real stuff.

      • Fred
      • August 1st, 2012

      I found that article disappointing, especially as it was bigged up twice in these comments. To save you all a click:

      There’s a long spiel about how its not racist to be suspicious of a strong Chinese performance and how Ye is guilty until proven innocent. It makes some good points but normally if you spend half a page saying “i’m not trying to say x” you leave the reader with the impression you’d actually quite like to say x. Maybe that’s unfair but if it were me I’d have given this section a good edit. I’m not saying the guy’s a racist btw but some of his phrasing is pretty clumsy in places.

      Then comes the “science”. Putting it in inverted commas is perhaps unfair as for all I know its very good science. However there are no references, citations, or even links so its hard to tell. There’s a link to the abstract of the guy’s PhD – which isn’t much use.

      The “science” consists of several parts, none of which I find particularly convincing.

      First is a discussion about “psychological reserves”. This is the suggestion that the speed of your finish is a function of what you have left in the tank and that Ye’s very strong finish suggests she had a lot left in the tank. In other words her swim was inefficient and thus even more suspicious.

      Admittedly this is something I am not an expert on and the author is, but it seems to me the author has missed the point here. If you time your sprint exactly right you do “empty your tank” (use up all that psychological reserve) and you do swim a race which, while it might be uneven, is entirely efficient. In cycling that is Mark Cavendish’s entire (very effective, and – we can only assume – efficient) strategy. In the pool this appears to be Soni’s strategy (Soni has just broken a world record in the 200m breaststroke using this strategy), and I’m sure others.

      Then there’s a discussion of Lochte and how unprecedented this all is. Again I’ve agreed to disagree on this point with people in these comments who know much more about this but I still don’t think it is, and I note some more precedents have been suggested below and in the comments to the sports science article.

      Then comes the key argument which is to compare times in the women’s 100m freestyle with times in the final 100m of the Womens 400m medley. We are told that Ye swims her last 100m at 110% of the speed of a 100m freesylist whereas 118-123% is more typical. We’re told this is extraordinary but we’re not given much of a statistical breakdown to see if it is or not. It’s also not clear what is being compared – Ye’s was a world record breaking performance so surely it should be compared against WR performances.

      As Nick mentioned in the comments its also not fair to compare different disciplines. This is not comparing like for like. It seems to me (and again I have to point out I am no expert in swimming) that what Ye has is incredibly economical (but not record breakingly fast) styles in breaststroke, backstroke and fly, which aren’t good enough to win but are good enough to keep her in contention while retaining a lot in the tank – allowing her to totally explode over the last leg. If that is what she’s doing then that is a very specific skill – its very different to just having a fast crawl and not fair to compare it against that.

      If that is the case it may also be an answer to the question “if her crawl is that good why isn’t she entering more free events?” There is no evidence that her crawl on its own is that good in absolute terms – her skill is being able to crawl very very fast in relative terms after having swum her other three styles efficiently.

      The article ends by saying this is evidence that Ye could have taken an even bigger chunk out of the WR but refrained because that would have been too suspicious. That just doesn’t make any sort of sense. It certainly didn’t seem to hold Usain Bolt back. (Bolt by the way had hardly ever raced 100m before 2008 and was very young for a sprinter, yet nobody raised an eyebrow when he demolished the WR)

      Whoa this comment got away from me, anyway….

        • Fred
        • August 1st, 2012

        Sorry! Innocent until proven guilty not what I said.

        • Alexander Lyon
        • August 2nd, 2012

        You seem to have slightly misunderstood the arguments made in the article above.

        The reserves in question are not “psychological” (relating to the mind) but “physiological” (relating to the working of the body). Effort does not consume energy in a linear manner, but rather in an exponential manner. Improving a 100m sprint by 1s doesn’t mean the same thing if the “before” time is 23 seconds or 10.8 seconds. Pacing a race is the way an athlete makes sure they use up all their energy by the end of the race, whilst at the same time obtaining a maximal performance. Going slow and then pushing like crazy at the end is rarely (I dare say never) appropriate. Cavendish is a great sprinter (very high ability to use all available energy quickly), but is not particularly good as an all-round cyclist (he has never finished remotely close to the top places at the Tour de France because he cannot provide the long-lasting efforts required in the mountain stages). The shorter a race, the less important pacing is. A 100m sprint doesn’t really have any pacing strategy, whilst a marathon is almost exclusively pacing.

        Ye Shiwen’s pacing is considered inefficient because if she can go very fast in the last stage (using up lots of energy for meagre performance improvements), then she would have had a better time if she had used some of this energy to speed up her other splits. Again, this is because the returns of effort decrease almost exponentially, meaning a similar improvement in performance is the result of constantly greater energy expenditure. The author is pointing out that with a better paced race, not only would Ye have broken the world record, but she could have shaved another 2-4 seconds off it.

        The speed of the final segment relative to “experts” (100m freestylists) seems to have been understood backwards. Ye’s performance in her final 100m was 91% (10% less) of the best 100m freestylists, whereas other 400m IM (W) finalists are “only” around 80-85% of this performance (18-23% less). On its own, this is exceptional, even moreso when one considers that Ye is not even part of the Chinese 4x100m freestyle, 4x100m medley or 4x200m freestyle teams. If she has enough energy left over after 300m in 3 swimming styles to go at 91% the speed of a specialist 100m freestyle (W) swimmer, whilst posting a record time in the individual medley (i.e. not going slow), then she would need barely any training to get to around 96-98% of the best performers in the world… And given that Tang Yi is the only female Chinese swimmer to be close to that mark, she would have improved the team’s chances at a medal. After 300m (and changing swims, without a diving start) Ye did 100m freestyle in 58.68s… Whilst the Chinese 4x100m freetyle medley had three athletes that couldn’t get under 54s. This is quite frankly baffling. Even more baffling given that she is part of the current Chinese 4x200m freestyle champion team, and two years ago she did a 100m freestyle in 53.66s… A performance that would qualify her for the 100m freestyle at these Olympics!

        If Ye is, as you believe, not particularly fast but very efficient with regards to her 3 other styles, then why is she not involved in any of the speciality freestyle events? This is a personal point of disbelief, and I am open to people with a finer understanding of the sport who wish to explain it. But it seems strange to me, given that Phelps went to the 2000 Olympics aged 15, and only competed in the 200m butterfly (his initial speciality), where he “only” managed to place 5th. He wasn’t the best american in that event (Malchow won gold), and he didn’t even pass the US trials for the 100m butterfly (Crocker took gold, and was central to the US team who took gold in the 4x100m medley). This time, though, it’s the opposite. An athlete who is outstanding in freestyle (good enough to feature in the Olympic final based on times she did as a 15 year-old), has enough stamina and versatility to break the 400m IM world record and the 200m IM olympic record… Isn’t competing in any other event. Why? Phelps (16) went to the 2002 Pan-Pacific Championships he won medals in 5 events, and this is despite butterfly (his speciality) being part of only 5 events. Thorpe also competed in 5 events at the 1998 Commonwealth Games (aged 16, too), despite the Australian swimming community being one of the best, and competition for a place on the relay team being extreme. If Ye is on the same level as Thorpe or Phelps, which her performances strongly suggest, then why only compete in two events? Furthermore, why not build upon her strongest swim (freestyle) to feature in the finals for the relays? I mean, posting 53.66 as a 15 year-old in a 100m freestyle (and winning a leg of the world championships) would indicate that her freestyle isn’t just “relatively fast” following the other 3 swims. It’s also objectively fast.

        Your comparison with Bolt is not quite accurate. Bolt was a 200m specialist from a young age, but he was a regular member of 4x100m teams. In 2002, he ran the 200m in 20.61s, and was part of a 4x100m team that finished in 39.15s, indicating that at the age of 16, he was likely already hovering around the 10s mark (or, but this is unlikely, that the other 3 athletes were faster than the existing world record over 100m). Bolt’s coach encouraged him to focus on the 200m, since he was not yet close to the national record (let alone the olympic or world records). Only once he broke the national record did his coach allow him to enter in the 100m, and at his first event he finished in 10.03s. After this, he refined his 100m performance, whilst continuing to improve his 200m and his relay times. This isn’t really surprising. Not more surprising at least than other athletes who once they are amongst the best at their event quickly become competitive on similar distances or different techniques over the same distance. Carl Lewis started out doing high jump before joining the 4x100m relay, the 100m sprint and then the 200m sprint. Thorpe was a 400m specialist before becoming one of the best on 200m, 100m and a member of the 4x100m and 4x200m freestyle relays. Bolt’s development was unusual because he was plagued by many injuries, so it looked like he wouldn’t be able to fulfil his talent. But the fact that he quickly became one of the best in the world over 100m isn’t unusual, given he was one of the best over 200m before he started to compete in the 100m. What’s more, Bolt -was- part of the 4x100m relay team that also broke the world record… Ye doesn’t really seem to follow this development. She’s clearly brilliant at the individual medley, both over 400m and 200m. But her performances in freestyle races over distances as short as 100m are also amongst the world best, yet she doesn’t even make the 4x100m freestyle team, when her personal best (from over a year ago) is more than a second better than two of the team-members’ performances, which in a 54s-ish leg is huge.

          • Zhang
          • August 3rd, 2012

          “On its own, this is exceptional, even moreso when one considers that Ye is not even part of the Chinese 4x100m freestyle, 4x100m medley or 4x200m freestyle teams.”

          This is very incorrect. Ye was in the final tem of 4x200m freestyle. She wasn’t in the team in the heats, but she was in the final. She was the fastest among the four Chinese girls. The team’s final rank is the 6th. The result can be found at

          • Zhang
          • August 3rd, 2012

          Here is the link for women 4×200 freestyle results. Click on the + sign of a team, and you can see the team members.

            • Alexander Lyon
            • August 3rd, 2012

            I posted this message before the finals of the 4x200m freestyle, and there was no indication she would be part of the team.

            Usually, the athletes that are added to the team just for the finals of relays are amongst the best in the world in that event, and therefore compete in the individual event. The USA added Franklin and Schmitt, who finished 1st and 4th in the 200m freestyle (W). Australia changed all four athletes, adding Barratt and Palmer, who finished 3rd and 8th in the individual event, as well as Schlanger (finished 3rd in the 200m freestyle national qualifiers, but is part of the 4x200m and 4x100m freestyle teams) and Coutts (finished 4th in the national qualifiers, and was competing in 4 events at the 2012 Olympics). France added Bonnet (third in national qualification for the 200m freestyle, competed in the 100m freestyle at the Olympics) and Balmy, who is a longer-distance specialist (in the final for the 800m freestyle, 6th in the 400m freestyle) who qualified for the 200m freestyle individual, but withdrew because she wanted to focus on the 400m and the 800m and at 25 wasn’t sure she would recover quickly enough to also be competitive in the 200m individual.

            China though… Left one of the two women that qualified for the 200m freestyle on the side of the basin for the final. Wang Shijia was added to the team because she finished 15th in the individual event, which is normal. But Song Wenyan who finished 21st in the individual 200m freestyle didn’t even make the team. Tang Yi finished 3rd in the 100m freestyle, so it’s understandable they wanted her to do the final relay. After all, Franklin (USA) and Schlanger (Australia) also competed in the 100m freestyle final and finished behind her. So… Why is Liu Jing in the team? Song Wenyan is a faster swimmer over 200m (or else Liu would have been in the individual event). Why take an athlete that isn’t competing in any freestyle event to make the team only for the final? It was genuinely not expected, in particular because China has a good 400m freestyle swimmer (Shao Yiwen) who was expected to “round out” the team.

            Looking at Ye’s performance in the relay though is actually very interesting. Her individual split was 1:57.37 over 200m, and 56.50 over the first 100m. That time would have been enough to finish 6th in the 200m freestyle event. Had she been level with opponents from the start, rather than trying to catch up, it’s possible she would have even done a better time by pacing herself better. Sure, it’s a long way off the 1:53.61 that won gold, but if she had managed to be 0.7s faster (quite possible with better pacing and seeing your rivals next to you in the last 50m), then she would have finished 4th! Her split over the first 100m was on par with Ruta Meilutyte’s attempt at the 100m freestyle, and wouldn’t have qualified her for the final by a long shot (54.43 was the last qualifying time for the semi-final, and 53.86 was the last qualifying time for the final). But she knew she still had to go another 100m, so it’s possible that going all out over 100m her time would have been enough to get into the semi-final.

            She’s 16. She’s exceptionally rounded with regards to her technique in all four swims and her freestyle is very strong. She’s exceptional over 400m, 200m, and likely could “expand” to either 100m or 800m whilst still being very strong. She might not have the stamina or the focus to compete in 8 events like Phelps did, or even in 5 like Thorpe did (although Thorpe was limited by his technique in swims other than freestyle), but 3? Missy Franklin is competing in 7 events, 4 of which are individual. I repeat that I don’t know how things happened with regards to team selection, qualifiers, etc. for the Chinese delegation, nor if her coaches felt it was better to only go for a very limited of events for one reason or another. But it’s somewhat disappointing that a swimmer who has the potential to be one of the very best ever seems to be limiting her appearances so much. It would be just as frustrating if Phelps or Thorpe had chosen to only compete in 1 or 2 individual events, smashed records in them, and then not even competed in the others. Most IM specialists are butterfly (Phelps, Cseh) or backstroke (Lochte, Pereira, Hagino) specialists, and their other strokes are just “good”. Phelps became phenomenal because his freestyle was very good, almost excellent, and this meant he could win freestyle events as well. Ye is potentially even more amazing : a freestyle specialist who can win the IM and be competitive in another swim! It’s too late for these Olympics, but I hope in 4 years she’ll have continued to improve, because she could go as high as 8 golds too : 100m, 200m, 400m freestyle, 200m, 400m IM, 4x100m, 4x200m relay and 4×200 medley, and even possibly an outside bid for a 200m in another swim!

            • APear23
            • August 4th, 2012

            @ Alexander

            Just wanted to correct something. From my understanding that 1:57.37 time for the relay doesn’t take into account the slower start of the individual events. Depending on her reaction times it probably adds in .3-.5 s to her time

            As to why she’s not competing in the individual events, I have seen many Chinese ppl raise this question as well on Chinese forums. It could be that she’s not good enough to qualify….. Or they want her to save her energy and focus on her better events…. Or some mysterious workings of the Chinese Olympic selection committee that favors some other swimmer over her for political reasons?

    • Peter
    • July 31st, 2012

    I too find some of Leonard’s arguments not very convincing nor neutral:

    “It was her final 100m of freestyle, in which she recorded a split time of 58.68sec, that aroused Leonard’s suspicion. Over the last 50m she was quicker than Ryan Lochte, who won the men’s 400m IM in the second-fastest time in history.”
    * What if Lochte was tired (hence being 4th slowest over last 50 and 100m), because he was at WR-breaking pace over the first 300m?
    * Other females swimmers have finished fast (with negative splits) in the past: Camille Muffat swam 1.58 over the last 200m when clocking 4.02 in the 400m freestyle (June 6th); and 4.04 over 2nd 400m of her 800m (July 6th), 5 minutes later followed by a 1.56 over 200m
    Muffat is a swimmer who has trained very hard, without (m)any rest periods – maybe more Chinese like?, hence swimming many sub 4.05’s this year.Maybe that adds some (other/more) perspective to Ye Shiwen’s performance.

    “We want to be very careful about calling it doping,” Leonard said. “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 400m individual medley by a young Irish woman in Atlanta.”
    So much for trying to be ‘very careful’ and pointing an accusing finger in the same statement…
    Just two examples of other performances called ‘unbelievable’ (by respected people) in the past without doping (proven to be) involved:
    * Inge de Bruijn’s 53.80 at 100m freestyle (May 2000), smashing the drugs-enhanced (?) 54.01 of Chinese (!) Jingye: “Unbelievable – frankly, we can’t believe it,” said her then-boyfriend and sometime 100m coach Jacco Verhaeren (
    * 15-year old Katy Ledecky beating legend Janet Evans’s (National Age Group) record: “that’s an unbelievable accomplishment for a someone
    who just finished her freshman year in high school, said her coach, Yuri Suguiyama” (

    [Ye] “looks like superwoman. Any time someone has looked like superwoman in the history of our sport they have later been found guilty of doping”.
    * the press on Inge de Bruijn (again): SUPERWOMAN: Dutch swimmer Inge de Bruijn, a late bloomer at 26 who recently tied or broke seven world records – fueling suspicion she might be on performance-enhancing drugs – was talking tough heading into the 12-day European Swimming Championships in Helsinki.”I’m not scared of anyone – I feel invincible,” de Bruijn said. Noting she had passed more than half a dozen drug tests since late May, she added, “I can understand the questions. My progression is significant, but I’m not the only one. People have to accept what I’ve done. People should know I train like an animal. The progress is the result of a lot of factors and when you put them together, things happen.” (
    * admittedly re: superman not superwoman, but still, on James Magnussen: “Swimming’s Superman confronts his kryptonite” (

    Ye was more than seven seconds faster in the Olympic 400m IM final than she had been in the World Championship equivalent last July. Leonard said that improvement was possible, but very hard to do. “If all her split times had been faster I don’t think anybody would be calling it into question, because she is a good swimmer. But to swim three other splits at the rate that she did, which was quite ordinary for elite competition, and then unleash a historic anomaly, it is just not right.”
    * Ye already swam 4.33 in Nov 2010 and another 4.33 in Oct 2011. Also, the pace up to 300m was near textile WR, so not that ordinary, I’d say.

    Leonard also questioned why Ye was not competing in the 200m or 400m freestyle, despite her phenomenal performance in that discipline in the medley, saying that was one of “a whole bunch of other questions” .
    * Ye’s SB’s for 2011 and 2012 have not been among Chinese top-2, so maybe that’s why?
    * Specifying his “bunch of other questions” would have strengthened his case, possibly.

    (a VDH-fan from Holland)

    • EA
    • July 31st, 2012

    Hi, great piece, this. Looking forward to her racing in the 200 IM later. Anyway… this is what Swimming World has to say on the matter:

    • Peter L Ruden
    • July 31st, 2012

    Thanks for a terrific post. Your attention to the facts was flawless. The media really blew this story. How unjust to a gifted young athlete. Ye Shiwen deserves apologies and accolades.

    • JJ
    • July 31st, 2012

    With all the doping in sports, athletes only have themselves to blame for scepticism. We have no idea how many of these athletes have cheated, but possibly most of them. It would be quite easy to cheat during training — build strength up rapdily beyond natural ability – and then be clean during competition. Friends who have competed in sports at upper levels have said that doping is rampant.

    If you think it’s not possible she ever doped, I’d call you naive. No, not naive. A fool.

    • E=mc2
    • July 31st, 2012

    Excellent points.
    Interesting how when an American athlete wins, they are above suspicion. Yet, we have seen ‘doping’ in the past from Americans as well. Meanwhile, someone has pointed out that Ryan already had the lead in the last leg and didn’t really need an extra burst of energy to catch up as Ye did. In times of stress, people have been known to do marvelous feats…such as women who lift cars when their child is underneath it.
    I think there will always be a bit of knee jerk reaction to Chinese athletes winning, the suspicion of drugs will probably forever haunt them.

      • bab
      • August 1st, 2012

      above suspicion? Phelps was tested after EVERY SINGLE RACE in the Beijing games….come on

        • vinekenji
        • August 3rd, 2012

        of course, as all medalists are supposed to be tested. What’s the point?

    • Ye She Won
    • July 31st, 2012

    Solute. Very sharp point, very good writing, totally facts based.

    I am Ye Shiwin’s fun. I have no doubt about her. She is clean.

    Ye, She won, again in 200 medley

    • Donncha
    • July 31st, 2012

    Sorry, but the Adlington argument is just dumb. The argument around Ye was that she swum the last 100 as fast as the best man IN THE SAME EVENT. Finding another woman who swam just as fast in a completely different event it irrelevant, but since you bring Adlington into it, let’s do comparisons on her:

    Beijing 2008
    Adlington, W 800m Free: last 100m = 60.86
    Mellouli, M 1500m Free: last 100m = 54.51

    So, despite the men’s event being almost twice as long, they still outswam her by 6 seconds. Or, if you want the exact same event, let’s try the 400m…

    Adlington: 59:86
    Park: 54.76

    To repeat, it is NOT about her overall time, OR her 5sec improvement. If she had swum that time without the devastating final 100 it would merely be a stunning swim like Ruta’s. The fact that she finished faster than Lochte (who swam his best ever time, so wasn’t holding anything back) is what marks the performance as suspicious, and yes, the fact that she’s from a country with more than twice the number of swimming drug positives than any other nation doesn’t help either.

      • KK
      • August 3rd, 2012

      It is pointed out that// In the same event there are four male swimmers that swam faster than both Lochter (29.10 sec)3 and Ye ( 28.93 sec)4: Hagino (28.52 sec), Phelps (28.44 sec), Horihata (27.87 sec) and Fraser-Holmes (28.35 sec).// So the problem is that Lochter was slow in the last 50m(Although he was brilliant in the first 300m),not Ye Shiwen was too fast.

      • APear23
      • August 4th, 2012

      I don’t understand why you can’t compare the times of last 100m of two events that are both long swims? It’s just showing how a girl can swim faster than Ye when she is fatigued like Ye on the last leg (tho from a different event)

      And I don’t see how a girl can’t be as fast as a guy in the final 50m of a swim? Are those guys spectacular on that stroke? Did the make the individual finals for freestyle? Could be they’re just not that good at it and/or no gas left in the tank. While Ye’s strategy has always been average on the other strokes and go all out at the end.

    • Jay Parkhill
    • July 31st, 2012

    I found Ye’s race eyebrow-raising both (i) because she beat her prior record so decisively and (ii) because her last 50m was completely different from the rest of the race. She had a small lead at the wall, and then it looked like she had the power to accelerate through the last 50m while the rest of the field was holding splits or slowing down.

    • James
    • August 1st, 2012

    Thank you for this post – it was a very interesting read.

    I myself looked into it deeper than simply racist comments and more in light of how unfortunate it has been for both parties to have found themselves in such unnecessary and controversial situations.

    It just so happened it was a Chinese swimmer and it just so happened that a British Commentator and a top American coach had to ruin it for everyone else – both Western viewers and other viewers (including the Chinese who are obviously proud of Ye rather than suspicious) around the world to again, see that the Olympics is not represented by the glory of individual talent but by petty sour grape attitudes.

    I also find it very appalling that certain people within the Western Media are able to always have their say with such a ‘high and mighty’ attitude or sly insinuations (in this matter) when other ‘rival’ nations (whether they be China, Russia, Brazil, Canada, France etc.) outdo them.

    Instead of understanding the hard work and wonderfully positive competitive nature of these outstanding athletes (from both Lithuania and China), these cynical people respond with their true character accordingly. Instead of encouraging viewers to feel proud of Olympic history in the making, their first reactions was to go against all the hard work the British organisers had worked so hard to achieve (a very good and smooth Olympics). And shame on the American coach who now has also ruined it for many of his fellow athletes who would’ve been happy for the young Chinese competitor.

    Because this is what the Olympics are all about – absolute, clean and glorious competition NOT competing through who can stir the sour grapes.

    I don’t believe there will be any apologies to China (or to India for that opening ceremony debacle) because we are all led to believe that these Olympics may just be “OUR Olympics” and not organised in any way to welcome the world and make sure that the rest of world is treated as proper guests and not just here in London to have to once again, deal with one blunder after than another.

    Poor America, in so many facets, not to be in the limelight anymore. It is a shame for certain people in that nation to have to heighten this cowardly and ‘small-minded’ attitude. It is a sad state of affairs for an American such as myself to see it like this – that truly, America will fight every fight just because of its own MAJOR insecurities.

    • James
    • August 1st, 2012

    And to look at it in another dimension – this is what could be something so galvanising for Ye as a Chinese competitor. As we all know, the Chinese compete and train with a fervour that goes beyond anything that is seen by other nations’ programmes.

    She trains primarily in Australia but obviously knows herself as Chinese with the true understanding of sacrifice, hard working and total focus.

    I suspect that she will only use all this controversy and doubts surrounding her to make it something to make her go even faster.

    The only person who knows she is clean is herself and I would think she would only want to outdo her critics.

    When commentators of pretty much all Western nations can’t even pronounce your name or be able to comment much on how you, as a teenager, have improved drastically in the last two years (because they simply did not do their research), and you come from a country who hosted the last flawless Olympics (compared to what we are saying in the first few days of this event!) and you’re beating WHITE PEOPLE in an ALMOST WHITES ONLY sport, of course there will be challenges. And like all great athletes from Ali to Owens, I am sure Ye Shiwen will understand how to overcome these ugly facets of international professional competition.

    And when a top American coach can’t even look at the other side of the argument – to his own Missy Franklin for her freakish performance as a teenager as well, then c’mon, WHAT IS HE REALLY SAYING BETWEEN THE LINES?

    You don’t see the Chinese whinging and accusing left, right and centre if an American beats them in table tennis or badminton, or diving, or gymnastics, or weightlifting, or archery, or shooting … there has not been one case of the level of accusations by the Americans and insinuation by the British as there have been with the Chinese. I guess some coaches and commentators understand also the humility of defeat and accept gracefully that the competitor was simply better on the day.

    Sports should be simple, and it makes it hard for many to appreciate this simplicity these days when you have people who take it and use to represent more than it should.

    I am not being racist in any way towards nations here but I am being quite critical of the way these international controversies have to always flare up (fuelled by media and instigated by narrow-minded supposedly-professional people of the public) all for really really personal reasons, and then have to ruin it for every other viewer, athlete and organiser out there and waste their time having to join in the argument.

    PATHETIC, that’s all I can say. What a waste of time for the Olympics – and it doesn’t make the West look good at all – makes us in the West look like morons with a big finger to point at our colonised and ‘lesser’ nations who SHOULD just listen to us rant (as I have ironically proven the point by having ranted as well).

    • Marty
    • August 1st, 2012

    Nice article and interesting comments.
    A few other points to consider
    1. The performance needs to be put into context against recent form rather than compare form to 2010 or 2011) Swimmers form goes up and down throughout the year due to health, timing of training blocks etc. Ye’s most recent indicator of form is her quali time for the Olympics which was achieved at the Chinese Nationals on 2 April 2012. Interestingly she did not win the 400m IM event but finished 2nd in 4.35.17. This is almost identical to the 4.35.15 she swam at the world champs final on 31 Jul 2011 where she placed 5th so a reasonable indicator of her performance level at the most important meets. My point is compared to recent form her 400m IM time has improved by 2% (7 secs) since April 2nd ie 4 mths not 2 yrs. Even for an elite Athlete that is truly exceptional hence the interest by coaches etc
    2. Her “closing” time over the last 100m in the final was even more exceptional. This article explains it best but in essence her closing time was 10% better when compared to her own previous times and within 10% of the best individual 100m freestyle swimmers indicating a huge reserve capacity
    3. I agree with you re little media attention on Meilutyte. The main reason the focus in on a Chinese Athlete rather than a Lithuanian or US one is China’s chequered history of doping in sport. Since 1990, China has produced 40 failed doping tests in swimming. That is three times more than the next highest country.
    4. For the record I actually believe Ye is innocent until proven guilty and am hoping she is just an exceptionally gifted athlete. But it is right to ask the questions

      • APear23
      • August 4th, 2012

      And now with the gold of American teen ledecky who improved her personal best on the 800 m by 11s within a month…. isn’t it time to revisit point 1?

    • Jarrod
    • August 1st, 2012

    You can not compare a medley to an 800 free. Completely different races and comparing the split times is ridiculous.

      • lwqpwl
      • August 2nd, 2012

      so far as I know, the last 100m should be swum in freestyle in the 400m IM. And the discussion is focused on the last 100/50 m split. So the comparison made by the author is rational and logical!

        • Jarrod
        • August 6th, 2012

        No it’s not at all. The fatigue that sets in from an IM is much greater than fatigure that sets in from swimming solely freestly. There is a reason there isn’t a 1500 fly.

        Iwqpwl – I am guessing you have never been a swimmer?

      • Henry
      • August 2nd, 2012

      It’s as ridiculous as comparing Ye’s last 50 to Lochte’s last 50. Completely different context, completely different races and race situations. As posters have earlier alluded to, Lochte wasn’t racing anyone and didn’t need to go into overdrive. Ye was attempting to come over the top of Biesel.

      Gotta remember, Lochte’s last 50 was only the 5th fastest in that race as well.

    • Ray M.
    • August 1st, 2012

    Thank you Dermot! I wish this article can be read for more people in the world.

      • STEVE
      • August 2nd, 2012

      Does anyone forget about Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery ????????

    • Max
    • August 2nd, 2012

    Some of the comments on here trying to defend Balding and Leonard are truly pathetic.
    Leanord’s comments reek of spite and racism. In accordance with his logic the whole American team must be serial cheats since they have dominated swimming for decades and have repeatedly shaved seconds off world records.
    Using Ye Shiwen’s final 50mt split out of context and then using it to tarnish an extremely talented young swimmer is something you would expect from an internet troll but not from a Head of swimming.

    Bottom line is that Ye Shiwen has been comprehensively tested and proven clean. These bitter fools and their apologists can cry foul all they want but it does seem to be a case of the Americans and the west not being able to comprehend someone other than themselves being incredible in the pool. How do you think the Americans would react if the Chinese and the Asian media went on a smear campaign against Missy Franklin? This whole episode has a bad smell of hypocrisy,spite and bigotry..

    • Martin
    • August 2nd, 2012

    Thanks a lot for the information and good points!

    It is true some Chinese swimmers were found using drugs in early 1990s. It is also true American athletes have longer history of convicted drug use. If today’s athletes have to bear suspicion for what some of their compatriots did before, perhaps most olymopics medalists should be doubted. How can we taint a 16 years-old’s integrity because of some Chinese swimmers did in 1990s. She was not even born at that time.

    To be fair, if Leonard believes Chinese swimming team’s 1990s records is relevant to this matter, he should also mention Chinese authorities’ tremendous anti-drugs efforts in past 20 years, and the effectiveness of these measures attested by international drug checks in past 20 years.

    Treating a person as innocent until guilty approved is an important principle American like to boast they hold in their country. Let’s hope this principle is not just applied to American.

    An athlete’s great performance come from his/her long time hard work which deserve respects. If in this Olympic medalists’ great moments were not applauded and congratulated, instead being treated as suspects. what kind of Olympics we would have

    • Roger
    • August 2nd, 2012

    Good comparisons. Actually, it’s a tale of four girls, Ye Shiwen at 14 and 16, and Ruta Meilutyte at 14 and 15. These pairs of tales, both between and within, so to speak, are not comparable, that is, until some establishes factually that they are. It would be different if the discussion were about athletes in their mid to upper 20s.

    The fact that Ye trains in Australia is actually more damning than in China. The former has a long, publicly documented history of doping and covering up positive tests. it’s lesser known than, say, China because it’s not a “socialist” enemy and because it’s, well, a long way away in a different hemisphere – and down under.

      • Acen
      • August 3rd, 2012


      ‘Australia has a long and publicly documented history of doping and covering up positive tests’ I am a keen follower of Australian sport, but I must be living in a different universe because I cannot recall any Australian swimmer being caught for a serious doping offence – though I don’t doubt there has been some. The number would be nowhere near 40 swimmers (40 is probably a small percentage of those who were actually using).

      There have been a few Australian cyclists from time to time – but this has not been institutionalised doping. What are you talkin about man??

    • Henry
    • August 2nd, 2012

    I’m an Aussie and until proven otherwise, this swim by Ye Shiwen in the 400IM is 100% legit.

    The main arguments have been mostly covered, but as an Australian, I was disgusted to see compatriots criticise and jump to conclusions when our very own 400IM Olympic Champion and previous world record holder, Stephanie Rice, had improved her time by 12 SECONDS between the World Championships in 2007 and the Olympics in 2008 and also setting a World Record in the process.

    One might argue the benefit of wearing the suits that were in vogue at that time, however, suits alone don’t account for a 12 second improvement in one’s time. Paul Biedermann was the greatest exponent of the supersuit and over a 400m freestyle race he only improved his PB by 3 seconds.

    For now, lets enjoy the show and appreciate the breathtaking achievements the likes of Ye, Missy Franklin and Ruta Meilutyte have graced us with over the last week.

    • Greg
    • August 2nd, 2012

    Great article and very well written. Western media is so ‘white bread” create an issue then drain it for everything you can until you can “shock us” with something else. The amount of knowlwdge about sport, performance and proper training \ tapering techniques that the Olympic media personalities have could be written on a pin head. As for John Lenorad he should be fired, impartiality and promoting the sport of swimming are part of his job description, his idiotic comments have brought the whole sport into question.

    • David
    • August 2nd, 2012

    An excellent article. Ignorance leads to stupidity; and stupidity yields ignorant comments. After all, Ye’s performance was not such “unbelievable” or “unprecedented”. Perhaps, what “unbelievable” is our ignorance.

      • Goldman
      • August 2nd, 2012

      100% agree.

    • hey
    • August 2nd, 2012

    Nice post.

    If you want to do a follow-up story, here’s Balding using Leonard’s comment to back her own comment:

    • Jane
    • August 2nd, 2012

    Thank you, this post made my day.

    Here is a statistic analysis published on the Guardian website could be interesting (“Adding the results for 400m medley finalists at the US Olympic trials, 2012 European Championships and 2010 Asian Games raises the number of freestyle phases by female swimmers that beat at least one male finalist to 27.”).

    How comes John Leonard isn’t fired yet ? As someone said, such doubts are destructive and it’s totally irresponsible. Fortunately Ye Shiwen doesn’t seem to be too affected by that.

    • Jane, the fastest woman in the world will not be faster than at least the dozen or so fastest men. Increase the number of men you consider (ie bring in more competitions and competitors) and the fact that there are a lot of women out there who are faster than men will come into play.

      Aside from the male vs female thing there is also the specialist vs medley angle. Ye brought home the 400 meter MEDLEY faster than five-time Olympic medalist Allison Schmitt brought home the 200 meter FREESTYLE. People say they can explain away Lochte’s relative slowness but what about Schmitt’s, who is a freestyle specialist?

      It is entirely possible that on Saturday a 16-year old got over-excited and, in a bit of an oops moment, showed the world what she was really capable of when she shouldn’t have.

        • Celestial Canuck
        • August 7th, 2012

        Have I ever doubted Ye cheated? The answer is yes.
        Her time indeed is a statistical anomaly in the current swimming world. But I wouldn’t go so far as to call that so improbable that it can only be explained by cheating.
        If she is doping, why didn’t she just swim faster in the 1st 3 legs to even out the split times thus avoiding all these controversies?

        Just like to add something on China’s history of systemic doping in their swim team. Although Olympic gold & glory (money & prestige) are still enormous motivation for lower-level government officials, coaches and athletes to win/cheat, government officials at the top also don’t want to lose face because of cheating. A Chinese run organization “China Anti-Doping Agency” was set up in 2007. As recently as Jun 2012, the agency caught Chinese swimmer LI ZheSi, and banned her from the Olympics. So attitude and conditions have been changing. There are definitely individuals cheating in China, but not likely on a systemic scale.

      • Lacri
      • August 2nd, 2012

      Re the stats published in the Guardian – when I used the parameters Gender – F, Competition – All, Statistic – 1st 7 50s ave – 8th 50 %, the first thing that was apparent was that highest (and most anomalous) score – 15.44% was that of Ye Shiwen, Olympics 2012. But there were other swimmers (in the same event), with scores almost as high, including Li Xianxu, Olympics 2012 (bronze medallist, score 14.29%) and World Champs 2011 (14.79%), Cammile Adams in the US Trials 2012 (14.52%) and Becca Mann in the US Trials 2012 (14.38). I also thought it interesting that the second highest score was Ye Shiwen, World Champs 2011 (14.72%) and that Ye Shiwen’s score from the Asian Games 2010 (13.46%) was the seventh highest on the list (the six top scores including two of Ye’s own). In other words, Ye’s finish has been outstandingly fast for the last 3 years – it is how she swims.

      The author of the Guardian piece notes that “Ye swam the freestyle phase 16% quicker than her average pace for the other three strokes. The average for her beaten rivals was 10%.” While true (Ye’s score was 16.07% for this statistic), Becca Mann achieved 15.13% in the American Trials, also substantially higher than the average. Becca Mann, incidentally, is 14 years old and did not even qualify for the Olympics, but the reaction from the American press to this statistical anomaly was to hail her as a future superstar, not to accuse her of cheating. She swam her final 100m in 62.1s, by the way (as against Ye’s 58.68) and her 400m split was 30.69s to Ye’s 28.93 – bearing in mind here that Mann is 14 and has not yet competed at international level, and Ye is the Olympic gold medallist. Ye’s 350m and 400m splits for the 2011 World Champs and 2010 Asian Games were also faster than almost all of the other swimmers – in other words, she has ALWAYS been a statistical outlier and her racing style has been consistent for several years.

        • Alexander Lyon
        • August 3rd, 2012

        Becca Mann is a freestyle specialist who also competes over longer distances. She competed in the 800m freestyle and 400m freestyle too at the US trials. Fast finishes from freestyle specialists in IM events are not -that- surprising. What is surprising is when they beat records by a clear margin (freestyle is only one fourth of the race), and when they don’t compete in any other individual freestyle events. Ye’s performance would be “unusual” but less so if she also broke the freestyle world record over 200m or 400m, or at the very least competed in these events. Most great IM swimmers are specialists in other swims (butterfly and back are the most common) who only start competing in the IM after reaching the “summit” in their speciality. I won’t say it’s unprecedented that a freestyle specialist wins the IM, since I’m sure it’s happened before, but it’s extremely rare. Ye though is either a non-specialist (the first of this new breed), or a freestyle specialist who isn’t good enough to be competitive in freestyle events (also the first of this new breed). Becca Mann is not a 400IM specialist. She qualified for it mainly because so few young swimmers are decent long-distance IM swimmers. Her time broke a national category record, but in events such as the IM, most great athletes only start competing late (Phelps didn’t start competing in the IM until he was 16, and only became highly competitive when he was 17) so it doesn’t really mean much. Her performance was mainly just a “ok swim in 3 different strokes” added to a genuinely good freestyle portion and enough stamina to hold out for the whole 400m. The record she broke, by the way, was also held by a medium-distance freestyle specialist, who won silver in 1984 for the 200m freestyle (and could have possibly won more freestyle events, in particular the 400m and 800m had the USA not boycotted the 1980 Olympics).

        The fact her final leg was fast isn’t in itself incredible. That she was faster than Lochte (not a freestyle specialist) is also not -that- incredible. What is incredible is that she’s not competing in any of the individual events where she would be a specialist.

  3. “I’d say we can still use [Adlington’s time] to put Ye’s time in perspective.”

    No, you can’t. If in few days a decathlete in London should run the 100 meters in under 10 seconds, you could not put such an anomaly “in perspective” but calling attention to all the people that have run under 10 seconds. Those people are ALL 100 meter specialists. Adlington is a freestyle swimmer not a medley swimmer.

    Comparing apples to apples would mean asking if Ye’s time was unusually close to a specialist’s time. And on that count it’s suspicious. 20% slower than a specialist is typical of a medley swimmer. 18% slower would be a medley swimmer who’s particularly strong in freestyle. But Ye was 10% slower. It’s a statistical anomaly.

    Discussion of how un-extraodinary Ye’s time over the full 400 metere may be is also irrelevant to the allegation given the nature of the allegation. The allegation, in a nutshell, is the the Chinese have created a superwoman and they hope to hide that fact by reining her in to a more mortal level. Running the superwoman to her max ability over the whole 400 meters would have broken the WR by such a large margin, particularly with reference to her specific background, that it would have raised too many red flags for any plausible deniability. So they dialed her back so that she could still trounce everybody else while still appearing to be a mere mortal. And indeed they decide so in the 200 meter medley. But she got behind enough after 300 meters in the 400 meter event that she dropped the hammer over the final 100 meters and the world got a glimpse of the superwoman. She sustained an 8 beat kick over 100 meters that would have exhausted a non-superwoman after 25 meters.

    If that isn’t the story, why did she post a slower time in the 200 meters for the final part than in the 400 meters when she should have had more reserve in the later event give it’s half the total distance?

    In the last 24 hours reports have also emerged about Ye disappearing into a disabled toilet for several minutes ahead of her Saturday race with two members of the Chinese support team.

    Finally, the Director General of the World Anti-Doping Agency, David Howman, stated earlier this year that “Just because you beat a test doesn’t mean you’re clean. That’s ridiculous.” “We are catching the dopey dopers but not the sophisticated ones,” Howman added. If someone in charge of anti-doping has this level of confidence is the unquestioning confidence of the rest of us warranted?

      • Max
      • August 3rd, 2012

      “Reports have also emerged that Ye disappeared into a disabled toilet for several minutes”?
      Are you serious. Or are you just a hack looking for attention.
      What reports? From where? Who said them and who saw her? Are they reliable?If so why arent they being looked into. Or are they some nonsense some internet troll came up with and you cobbled up because of your preexisting bias.

      The rest of your post is demented ramblings based on no evidence and logic.You are assuming a lot of things on what the chinese have done with their so called ‘superwoman’ based on no facts. We can all speculate that a number of American swimmers are drugged upto their eyeballs too based on your same logic..It falls flat on its face without the evidence..

      • Is the Independent, a British national daily, an “internet troll”?

        I find it ironic that you accuse me of “preexisting bias” at the same time that you jump to the assumption that my source couldn’t be any stronger than some blogger or “troll.”

        “…number of American swimmers are drugged upto their eyeballs too based on your same logic.”

        Let’s see it that. Apply the “same logic” and we will see if the situations are in fact similar.

        Mark Spitz has added his voice to those who do not consider the way Ye broke the WR “normal”, saying “”Normally people that break world records are sort of like fading at the end.” With respect to Ye, “I’ve never seen anything like that in my life,” Spitz said.

        Look the “point” here is not, in fact, to try to convince people to conclude Ye is a cheater. It is rather to push back against the move to shame anyone who gets people questioning. The original blogger here said that any controversy here “depends almost entirely on race” and accused the questioners of making “cowardly smears and insinuations.” If there is racism going on here then why aren’t the so-called racists trying to pick apart Korean and Japanese performances, given that these peoples are also Asian?

      • David
      • August 3rd, 2012


      You simply repeated what “expert” John Leonard has said in another day about “8 beat kick…” is “impossible” or “unbelievable” without any new evidence (remember, Aristotle once claimed man has more teeth than woman). Don’t you think it is equally “impossible” that “head” shows up 10 times in row when you flip a fair coin 10 times, yet the theory of probability tells you it should show up only 5 times?” Don’t be fooled by pseudo interpretation of statistics, particularly when subject involved with living being.

      Unlike you (spread rumor “Ye disappeared in…”), author of this article is a prudent man, who didn’t try to answer the question whether Ye’s performance was resulted in doping or not. He simply provided factual evidence to counter the claim by Leonard that Ye’s performance was “impossible” or “unbelievable”. What really “unbelievable” is stupidity of making claims without factual evidence. Extraordinary claim requires extraordinary evidence. In my opinion, your claim (“in last 24…Ye disappeared in…”) not only offended a 16-year old girl, but also insulted the anti-doping competence of British Olympic committee.

      Isn’t what Olympic about – to achieve something no one has ever thought possible? Don’t we all witness Jason Lezak outswam the fastest man in the world Bernard in man’s 4×100 relay? His split time 46.06 (the fastest relay split in history, the world record for 100m free is 46.91) was equally “impossible” or “unbelievable” based on his swimming record or expert’s opinion. And yet he created the unbelievable “moment”, more importantly, the moment that uplifted human spirit to achieve “impossible”. I know it’s hard for Leonard to understand.

      • Frank
      • August 3rd, 2012

      Your assertion:”No, you can’t. If in few days a decathlete in London should run the 100 meters in under 10 seconds, you could not put such an anomaly “in perspective” but calling attention to all the people that have run under 10 seconds. Those people are ALL 100 meter specialists. Adlington is a freestyle swimmer not a medley swimmer.”

      Now a British woman athlete just did something unusual: “(Jessica) Ennis started Friday with a 100m hurdles personal best and set a new British record in a packed stadium. Her 12.54 seconds equalled the time that Dawn Harper ran to win individual gold for the event in Beijing. ”

      In case you didn’t know, she’s after heptathlon gold and not focusing on the 100m hurdle. Is she doping? Your argument is just ridiculous.

    • Goldman
    • August 2nd, 2012

    Thank you for the post! It is sad that the American Swimming Coaches Association (ASCA) and the World Swimming Coaches Association have a moron as John Leonard as executive director. He should be ticked out.

    • fairfax
    • August 2nd, 2012

    Wonderfully civil discussions on such a controversial subject! Save for a few, everyone has stuck to the point and refrained from personal attacks. It’s a rarity these days. The amount of facts that has been shown in this discussion is way more than everywhere else I’ve read. It’s enlightening.

    To the point of John Leonard being racist or making racist comments, I think 99.9% (just a guestimate, not fact, sorry) of the world population would not accept being called a racist even though many harbor, sometimes deep, prejudice against a particular race. Very few people are totally above it, and I admit I’m not one of them. “Racism” is a too big of a word for people to admit association. That’s why so many people are jumping out in defense of John Leonard, it is precisely because deep down they share similar sentiment and staying silent would suggest that they are guilty of racism by association. But the fact of the matter is, John Leonard has issues. Not only is he prejudicial against Chinese swimmers, but also against female swimmers in general. In his own words, he stated unequivocally that a female swimmer having a faster time than a male medalist in that situation (last 50 m of a medley race in elite competition) is simply “insane”. To that I toast to his wife for being so understanding over the years. 😀

    • Alexander Lyon
    • August 2nd, 2012

    Regarding Rebecca Adlington’s blistering final 50m in 2011, it’s worth noting that her overall time was “only” 2:17, whilst her own world record is at 2:14. If she went “slow” over the first 750m, it’s not difficult to believe she can turn up the power on the last 50m and finish it in an outstanding time. Ye happened to break the world record by over a second, and was quite a bit ahead of her own personal best. This doesn’t mean it’s impossible for Ye to go that fast, it’s merely a very different set of circumstances. For instance, Usain Bolt can probably finish the last 20m of a 200m sprint at a speed that is close to his maximum over 20m, on condition that he “goes easy” over the first 180m. If he breaks the world record and at the same time in the last 20m is going almost as fast as he can over 20m, then it is unusual, and suggests he could have lowered his time over 200m even further!

    I don’t think Ye is doped (and if she is, I hope she is not aware of it), but she isn’t a product of the Australian swimming system. She has trained in Australia for periods of up to 3 months at a time since 2010. The rest of the year, she trains in China. Ye’s performances so far at the Olympics have been brilliant, and I’m just mildly disappointed that with her ability to smash records, produce outstanding splits at the end of her race and excellent technique she’s not competing in more events.

    Usually, when a young athlete develops into a top athlete, their progression with regards to times, power and speed follows (at first) a sort of logarithmic scale. It grows really fast at first, and each year drops off a little. A 14 year-old improving by 8% is not uncommon nor suspicious. A 20 year-old improving by 8% is much harder to understand unless there’s a medical specificity, technical change, or the event in question is a “secondary event”, one that the athlete started competing in at a late stage in their development, after already mastering one or several other events. Of course, Ruta Meilutyte’s progress is huge. But she is a whole year younger than Ye. She’s still on the “steeper” part of the normal development curve, and coming within world record level for one event by the age of 15 is “usual” for talented swimmers. Phelps, Thorpe, Manaudou, and probably a long list of others got within a tiny percentage of world records when they were 15 or 16. Meilutyte hasn’t broken a world record, and another factor in her rapid development is the technical changes in breaststroke, where she is one of the athletes that takes the most benefit from the Kitajima kick. Only allowed since 2005, swimmers are still adapting to find how to get the maximum benefit out of this technique (before the pull-out? during? at the “fast” of the glide? as part of the push-off? once the glide starts to slow down? how big a kick? etc.), and it’s no surprise that most of the swimmers that had already spent 10 years learning how to swim when this technique was illegal are not particularly good at using it. Meilutyte has been able to use it pretty much since she started swimming. She was 8 and a half when it was written into the rulebook, so ever since she started to learn breaststroke as a competitor, she’s been tuning it, gaining muscle memory that older athletes fought against! She’ll probably be able to reach the world record that was set with polyethurane suits partly thanks to this (partly because the suits provided a greater advantage the faster the swimmer went, and therefore little advantage in “slow” swims like breaststroke). But I digress. Ye’s performance improvements are still more or less on track (she might have under-performed in 2011, so it didn’t show her progress), although it’s interesting to see how much more she can improve. Her technique, whilst good, doesn’t seem to be outstanding in any one swim, and yet she posted times back in 2010 that would put her in the 100m freestyle final (usually a sign that the athlete has brilliant technique in that particular swim, as well as extraordinary physical abilities for a 14 year old). Thorpe at 14 only just managed to get under 4:00 in the 400m freestyle; at his peak he established a new world record at 3:40.08, which represents a 9.19% performance improvement. A similar improvement margin would mean Ye can reach significantly below 50s in a 100m freestyle at her best! The world record is at 52.07s, and the winning time at the 2012 Olympics was “only” 53 seconds (times dropped significantly since polyethurane suits were banned, which makes her 53.66s all the more impressive!). I’m not privvy to her training schedule, intimate details of her technique with each sports, nor her times in training, and I’m not accusing her of doping by any means, however, I am surprised at her choice of events at these Olympics, and at the development curve her times hint at, with massive improvements when she was 13-14 (as one would expect), then a “plateau” between 14 and 16 (as one would not expect) and then another set of improvements within a few weeks.

    • Ying
    • August 3rd, 2012

    well said. Can not agree more with your opinions and arguments.
    I think someone needs to show more respect to all the innocent and talented athletes performing in Olympic 2012.

    • Cedric (french guy)
    • August 3rd, 2012


    Nice article… Very interesting and I find it great that you take time to revise your article according to the comments.

    While you’re talking about Adlington and so on and comparing to Lochte… If Lochte is THE performance indicator (:-)) why don’t you talk abt the performance of Yanninck Agnel in the 4*100 french team who swam way way faster than Lochte (and they were both swamming the final 100m)? I think he must have swam something like 2 or 3 seconds faster than Lochte…

    Just saying :)

    • Michael
    • August 3rd, 2012

    Interesting and well thought out article which puts this controversy into perspective. This is what happens when you have a coach who has anointed himself an expert on doping based only on his years of observations of previous games. Unfortunately we have a lazy and scandal starved press who is too eager to confer him this credential. By expressing his concerns in public rather than to the IOC or FINA, Mr. Leonard has made himself judge, jury, and executioner in the process. Thanks to him, he has smeared a promising athlete’s reputation in the swimming world and possibly affected her performance in the middle of a competition. As a coach he should have realized the consequences of such actions. It’s reckless and irresponsible. If he has consulted his colleagues they might have offered him a plausible explanation for Yi Shiwen’s extraordinary performance. In our supposedly enlightened society, a person is innocent until proven guilty. Relying on gut instinct is not evidence. You need to prove it.

    Here’s an article from the Financial Times that puts the Chinese swimmer’s performance into perspective.

      • David
      • August 3rd, 2012


      Well said about press and irresponsible so-called experts. I read a similar article in Wall Street Journal. Here are quotes:

      “Statistics suggest Ye’s performance in the 400m medley, which first prompted these questions, wasn’t unprecedented. Her time of 4:28.43 was an improvement of about 2.44% on her time from the 2011 world championships, the last major international event she swam in. But in the same pool on Sunday in a different race—the semifinals of the 100-meter breaststroke—Ruta Meilutyte, a 15-year-old Lithuanian, shaved two seconds off of her pre-Olympic personal best. That performance represented a 3.1% improvement”

      “The raw speed of Ye’s final 50-meter freestyle isn’t unprecedented, either. In last year’s World Championships in Shanghai, Great Britain’s Rebecca Adlington swam the final 50 meters of the 800m freestyle final in 28.91 seconds, .02 second faster than Ye and 19 hundredths faster than Lochte’s time from the 400m medley.”

      Regardless these technical analyses, “unprecedented” is precisely what Olympic about – to achieve something no one has ever thought possible. Don’t we all joyfully witness Jason Lezak outswam the fastest man in the world Bernard in man’s 4×100 relay? His split time 46.06, the fastest relay split in history, was equally “impossible” or “unbelievable” based on his swimming record or expert’s opinion. And yet he created the unbelievable “moment” that uplifted human spirit to achieve “impossible”.

      I am sure that next-generation youngsters who lighted Olympic torches in open ceremony will create many “unbelievable” moments that delight all of us, but torture cynics.

    • Fred
    • August 3rd, 2012

    A 15 year old American has just won the women’s 800m free with a time 25 seconds faster than she swum last year.

    We want to be very careful about calling it doping.

    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.

    But the first 300m was impossible. Flat out. If all her split times had been faster I don’t think anybody would be calling it into question, because she is a good swimmer. But to swim the later splits at the rate that she did, which was quite ordinary for elite competition, having previously unleashed a historic anomaly, it is just not right.

    Obviously given the USA’s record on doping it is natural that American athletes will attract suspicion

      • Zhang
      • August 4th, 2012

      John Leonard hasn’t yet said anything. In case he is on vacation, I wish someone would give him a call about this news. He must find it very, very disturbing.

    • Mark Track
    • August 4th, 2012

    Hey guys, please write about Rebecca Soni. Her world record win is extremely suspicious. I suspect she’s on dope and I’m pretty sure she’s a product of the USA doping regime that over the years, have gone underground and extremely sophisticated and undetectable.

    • atene
    • August 4th, 2012

    Katie Ledecky vs. Ye Shiwen (what’s the difference)?

    People were complaining about Ye Shiwen using steroids because she swam 5 seconds faster than her personal best on 400m IM.

    However, today, Katie Ledecky swam 8:14 for the 800m freestyle. As of 1 MONTH AGO, her personal best was only 8:25. She swam 8:19 at the Olympic trials and now 8:14 at London. (here’s the source)

    That’s an 11 second improvement in 1 month for 800m (5.5 seconds for 400m), and thats greater than Ye’s improvement.

    In fact, her year improvement was 21 seconds! (–oly.html).

    From Yahoo! Answer

    • Asdf
    • August 5th, 2012

    So what does cb and Leonard have to say about ladecky? The silence is deafening.

    • Mike Corbin
    • August 6th, 2012

    I don’t know. Accusations of cheating might have something to do with the fact that the Chinese have an established history of systematic cheating in swimming events. The nineties were dominated by Chinese athletes that got caught. I would presume that selection of Chinese athletes has improved since then, and I know training has improved since those days, but I would also presume methods of cheating have gotten considerably more sophisticated and harder to detect. The Chinese program is still tightly controlled by the government, and that’s always going to raise eyebrows.

    • Epsilon
    • August 14th, 2012

    Americans dominate this sport, and when someone else beats them they cry about dopping. There are so many American superstars in track and field that got popped for PEDs that I won’t be surprised if their swimmers are of the same ilk. Just for your information, swimmers are the least tested athlets.

      • admin
      • August 14th, 2012

      Funny you should mention that, I’m doing some research into FINA’s drug testing regimen, have you got a link to show how often swimmers are tested relative to other athletes?

    • David
    • August 27th, 2012

    Dermot. Out of interest, get the two girls height and weight data for the last 4 years, then let me know whether you think you are comparing apples with apples….

  4. Very interesting article, I firmly believe she isn’t a cheat though.