Ye Shiwen: Innocent until proven guilty

August 6, 2012

By Carlos Barria

As the day starts, parents accompany their kids to the Chen Jing Lun Sports School. In the entrance a sign reads, “Today’s sports school student, tomorrow’s Olympics stars” – a reminder of where it’s possible to go with hard work.

A girl with swimming goggles around her forehead waits for training to begin. She muses over portraits of famous Chinese swimmers hanging on the wall. Among them is a portrait of London Olympics double gold medalist Ye Shiwen.


Years ago, at age 6, Ye arrived at this same pool without any swimming experience. But a couple of months later she had mastered the freestyle and the backstroke. “Ye Shiwen never told me that she was tired, or that she didn’t want to swim anymore. She never said that,” her former coach Wei Wei remembers.

In the pool some 20 girls and boys have started their training session, swimming laps endlessly. Although it seems like a hard regime for children just seven and eight years old, they look like they’re having fun. Almost all of them are wearing a swimming cap with the Chinese flag – an early reminder that the ultimate goal here is to make their country proud.

In China, people keep a close watch on the Olympic gold medal tally, paying special attention to their standing versus the United States. After 16-year-old Ye’s powerful performance at the London Aquatic center, where she won two gold medals and broke the world record in 400 meters, controversy erupted over comments by a U.S. coach that suggested Ye was doping.

At a modest family home in Hangzhou, Ye’s father, Ye Qingsong, sits on a chair next to large bouquets of flowers sent by neighbors and local authorities as a congratulatory gesture to the family. He is very busy lately giving interviews to local and international media organizations.

The apartment is so small that the refrigerator stands in the living room where Mr. Ye, bristling with pride, shares pictures from a family album. He admits he was very angry after the doping allegation. He wasn’t alone. The controversy reverberated through China, and was considered by many as a national affront.

China has suffered doping scandals in the past, but no less than other countries, including the United States. Some commentators have wondered if tests to catch doping can keep up with new innovations in the practice. Cases of positive doping appear years after medals are awarded.

The world governing body FINA has confirmed Ye has never tested positive, while the IOC intimated there were no problems with her test after the race.

At the family apartment, Mr. Ye remembers a conversation with his daughter when she was 11 years old and about to join the provincial swimming school.

“I advised her, if you go down the professional path, you will give up a lot of things. You can’t turn back on the path once you are on it. Are you sure you want this direction?”

Ye replied, “I want to swim, I like to swim. Dad don’t worry, I’ll be fine.”

(Corrects the name of Ye’s coach)

One comment

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Nice report with a human face, thank you.

Posted by seewell | Report as abusive