I’m Calling Her the Chinese Mermaid

The 2012 London Olympics are finally upon us and I couldn’t be happier. Every four years, for two weeks, the world gets together to celebrate the fastest, the strongest, the perfectionists, and the most precise. Athletes who spend their lives training finally get their moment to shine on the biggest stage, all while proudly representing their country.

I’ve been looking forward to this year’s Olympics since the last Olympics in Beijing and while I don’t think the Olympics are as exciting this time around, you can bet I’m spending my days with my butt on the couch in front of the TV (or computer) cheering on people who are more athletic than I ever be.

Why don’t I find the Olympics as exciting this time around? Well for one, the Beijing Olympics were essentially the Michael Phelps show. He dominated every event was swam in and managed to rack up 8 gold medals; there’s no denying NBC’s claim that he ‘set the Water Cube on fire.’ He definitely made the last Olympics incredibly exciting and although he is still a force to be reckoned with in the pool, there is no doubt that this is his swan song. He got off to a rocky start after failing to medal during the 400m IM and was even out touched by Chad le Clos of South Africa during his signature event, the 200m Butterfly. In a way, this time around its Michael Phelps’ goodbye show. He has stated numerous times he’d like to retire after this and it’s almost moving to see him graciously come in second and pass the gold medal on to others.

Now the other reason why I’m a bit disappointed by this year’s Olympics. Last Saturday, I watched the women’s 400m IM final through a BBC stream (no thanks to NBC’s terrible coverage) and was blown away by Ye Shiwen’s performance. She came from behind and managed to swim past the favorite, Elizabeth Beisel, win the gold medal, and set a new world record. The reactions I saw online right afterwards were much like my own: awe and excitement. We watched Ye Shiwen sprint the last 50m (freestyle) and basically pull a Usain Bolt in the pool.

Obviously, it didn’t take long before someone had to go running to the press with his own theories and speculation. John Leonard, the executive director of the World Swimming Coaches Associate and (surprise) an American, voiced his own opinions to The Guardian by describing Ye’s swim as “disturbing” and stated that swims like her’s are almost always aided with doping. Since then, the majority of articles featuring Ye Shiwen mention Leonard’s opinions and doping accusations.

Why is everyone so suspicious of Ye Shiwen’s swim? This is what I’ve been wondering since Saturday and why I’ve been so frustrated with the Olympics and the media. The entire situation reeks of sexism and racism; it saddens me that a Chinese woman cannot do something extraordinary without having cheating accusations thrown at her(and to have them come from a grown white man, nonetheless).

I’ve read and hear a few of the reasons why skeptics believe she cheated and I will now break it down because obviously they need some help.

“She swam faster than Lochte! There’s no way a woman can do that!”

The media has run with this claim and unfortunately, a lot of people are accepting it as fact. In actuality she didn’t swim faster than Lochte. Her overall time for the 400m IM (4:28.43) was still much slower than Lochte’s (4:05.18). There are other articles that are comparing each swimmer’s last 50m freestyle, which is fine, but they seem to forget that Lochte slowed down a lot towards the end and had the clear lead. Ye Shiwen had to catch up to Beisel and pass her in order to win. Now keep this in mind when you compare the times (Lochte: 29.10 vs Ye: 28.93).  Is it impressive? Most definitely. Impossible? No.

Consider this: Rebecca Adlington from Great Britain once swam the last leg of a 800m freestyle race in 28.91. That’s faster than both Lochte and Ye. Here is a woman who woman swam faster than a man and yet, there is no public outcry. I suppose it’s different when you’re Chinese.

“It’s impossible to shave off five seconds off your personal best!”

Actually, no it’s not impossible. It’s been pointed out by both Ian Thorpe and Bob Bowman (Michael Phelps’ coach) that at Ye Shiwen’s age (16) great improvements are more likely to occur due to growth spurts, hormones, etc. Ye has grown about four inches since the Asian Games in 2010 (where her 400m IM time was 4:33.79). Is it really hard to believe that she improved her time by 5 seconds over the course of two years and after a growth spurt?

To further this argument about teenage bodies being capable of crazy things, I’m going to bring up Missy Franklin, an American teenage swimming phenomenon. She’s been the darling of NBC and won her first gold medal shortly after swimming a semi-final. Does that make anyone suspicious? No, again because she’s an American and as the media has shown us, we should just expect things like this.

“She’s just an unknown! How could someone who nobody predicted would win, set a world record and win the gold medal?”

I find this argument sad, as it shows the clear distinction between the media’s treatment of Ye Shiwen and another teenage swimmer, Ruta Meilutyte. Ruta is 15 years old and recently won the gold medal in 100m breaststroke. Prior to the Olympics, she had only competed at the European Youth Summer Olympic Festival. If you Google her name, you will find articles praising Ruta and her Olympic medal win and the fact that she trained in England.

Now if you Google Ye Shiwen, you will also find articles discussing her medal wins, but almost all of them mention the doping speculation surrounding her. There are few articles discussing her training and hard work and if any, they are from the Daily Fail (aka the Daily Mail which no one should look at as a legitimate news source).

Why is it that Ruta is praised by the press and lauded for her accomplishments? No one seems to be questioning whether or not Ruta was doping during her race (which I am not suggesting at all by the way). She had never competed in a major world swimming competition and yet she beat gold medal favorites, like Rebecca Soni.

Ye Shiwen, on the other hand, has competed on the world stage before, winning gold in 2011 at the World Aquatics Championship and silver in 2010.

“China has a history with cheating and doping its swimmers! Is it a surprise they did it again?”

I’m not going to deny the first part. History is history and it’s understandable that people are naturally suspicious of a country’s that done so before.

However, other countries have had its own share of athletes using performance enhancers, including the US. I don’t think it’s fair to immediately jump to conclusions that China cheated when America has its own history of cheating.

Might I point out Jessica Hardy? In 2008 she was kicked off the Olympic swim team after a performance enhancer was found in her system. She’s on the team this year and NBC has barely mentioned this amidst the current doping scandal. If we were to follow the logic that cheaters are more likely to cheat, shouldn’t we suspicious of Jessica Hardy then?

Ye Shiwen has been cleared by WADA and like British Olympic Chairman Colin Moynihan has said, “…that’s the end of the story.” Yet, there are still articles and whispers surrounding her. I find this disgusting and incredibly depressing. Because John Leonard spoke to the press, this accusation will follow her all throughout this year’s Olympics and most likely, for the rest of her career. Ye Shiwen’s race was the best event I’ve seen thus far and she could’ve been up there with Michael Phelps and Gabby Douglas as the great Olympians of 2012. However, this blatant racism and sexism displayed by Leonard and the press have prevented her from receiving the praise and celebration she deserves. Her name already is tied to the phrase ‘doping scandal’ and knowing the lack of reading comprehension skills out there, I imagine people will picture her only as a cheat, and not the phenomenal swimmer that she is.

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