LONDON (AP) — Rumors are circulating about Ye Shiwen, the Chinese swimmer who beat North Kingstown's Elizabeth Beisel in the 400-meter individual medley Saturday in world record time.
Ye shattered the previous world record and beat Beisel, who swam a personal best and had the best time in the world this year going into the race, by nearly three seconds. She swam the last 50 meters faster than American Ryan Lochte did in winning the equivalent men's race
Photo Gallery: 400 IM Final and Medal Ceremony
Alain Bernard, the 2008 Olympic freestyle champion from France, was among those who wondered if Ye's time was on the level.
"I'm for clean sport, without doping, and I truly hope the authorities in charge of this are doing their job in good conscience and really well," he said. "Unfortunately, I want to say that there is no smoke without fire. But today there is no proof to show that any Chinese has tested positive in this competition."
At a briefing Monday in London, reporters peppered Arne Ljungqvist, the International Olympic Committee's medical commission chairman, with questions about Ye Shiwen, China's 16-year-old swimming sensation. Ljungqvist said "it is very sad that an unexpected performance be surrounded by suspicions."
"Suspicion is halfway an accusation that something is wrong," Ljungqvist said. "I don't like that. I would rather have facts."
Chinese officials have argued that doping isn't the only explanation for Ye's success. It also is at least partly because China, which has grown to become the world's second-largest economy, now throws big checks at some of swimming's sharpest minds. China has turned to foreign trainers to get their coaching programs, expertise and methods, not only to hone its swimming stars but to make them more rounded and relaxed, too. The idea is that happy swimmers are fast swimmers.
Ye has trained in Australia with two well-recognized coaches, Ken Wood and Denis Cotterell. Wood has had a contract with the Chinese Swimming Association since 2008, and 15 of China's swimmers in London, plus five of its relay swimmers, have trained at his academy north of Brisbane, rotating through in groups for a couple of months at a time, he told The Associated Press in a phone interview.
"I get paid per month, per swimmer four times more than I do with my home swimmers," Wood said from Australia after Ye qualified comfortably fastest Monday in the 200 medley heats. China pays him bonuses for Olympic gold and for swimmers' personal bests, and he also got a bonus for Ye's 200 medley world championship win in 2011.
"China is putting a lot of money into its program and I am only too happy to work with them," he said. "The whole Chinese philosophy is that they want to be the best they can."
He said Ye's power-to-weight ratio is particularly good, and that helps explain how she was able to rip through the last 50 of her 400 IM in 28.93 seconds, compared with Lochte's 29.10. That gender-defying feat and her world record of 4 minutes, 28.43 seconds, more than any other Chinese achievement so far in London's Aquatics Centre, set tongues wagging. Lochte said he and his teammates talked about it over dinner and that "if she was there with me, she might have beat me."
"That's the one that's caused all the controversy," Wood said of that swim. Even in Australia, he is hearing muttered suspicions from London about Ye and whether China "is going back to the bad old days."
Those would include when breaststroker Yuan Yuan, a silver medalist at the 1994 world championships, was caught trying to smuggle 13 vials of banned growth hormone hidden in a thermos flask in her luggage into Australia ahead of the 1998 worlds or when seven Chinese swimmers tested positive for steroids at the 1994 Asian Games.
That decade of shame — a sports scientist at San Diego State tallied 32 Chinese swimmers caught for drug offenses in the 1990s, two of them twice — and China's subsequently victorious bid for the 2008 Olympic Games forced change and the establishment of a world-recognized anti-doping program. Still, this June the official Xinhua News Agency reported that 16-year-old Li Zhesi, who swam the last leg of China's 400 medley relay victory in world record time at the 2009 worlds, tested positive in March for EPO, a banned blood-boosting hormone.
Wood said drug testers from FINA, swimming's governing body, and the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority "have on many occasions" visited his academy unannounced to collect samples from the Chinese.
"They just come in out of the blue and they pick who they want," he said.
Ye, asked by the AP about the suspicions, gave what sounded like a stock answer. "We resolutely don't use and are resolutely opposed to doping," she said.
Wu Peng, who trains in Ann Arbor, Mich., and, at 25, is older than Ye, was more forthcoming.
"In the 1990s, the reputation of Chinese swimming wasn't good. There were a lot of doping problems. But it really is very different now. A lot of attention is paid to training. And despite breaking the world record, Ye Shiwen didn't come out of nowhere. Her results have steadily been improving," he said. "So I think it is down to training, not other methods."
"What they are saying is: 'Where did this girl come from? She came from nowhere,'" Wood said. "That's absolutely rubbish."