By John Millington
Pierre De Coubertin, Founder of the modern Olympics in 1894 once said: “The Games were created for the glorification of the individual champion.”
Well according to the majority of the British press, his words don’t seem to apply to gold medal winning swimmer Ye Shiwen.
As a journalist and a former county standard athlete I have a special interest in the Olympics.
For all the controversy surrounding the games – G4S, the overtly corporate nature of the games and the lack of social housing that will be built in post Olympics London – the games themselves have so far been a true festival of sport.
We have had highs and lows – great athletic feats have been achieved and horrible tweets have been received.
That said the spectre of performance enhancing drugs once again rears its ugly head over the games, engulfing athletes and their respective nations.
Chinese swimmer 16 year old Ye Shiwen produced a world record winning performance in the pool trouncing her rivals including several Americans and inexplicably swimming the last 50 metres of her 400m Medley faster than the winner of the men’s event.
It is so far the outstanding performance of the games.
Everyone else seems to have thought so too. That is until an American swimming coach described her performance as “disturbing”, “suspicious”, “outrageous” and “unbelievable,” insinuating that illegal substances had aided her.
Seeing this as a starting pistol for pre-existing anti-Chinese sentiment, sports journalists and muck rakers converged like a pack of wild animals on the story, creating the remarkable scenario where Ye and her team were forced to deny she was a cheat, even though there is not one shred of evidence against her.
Undeterred Ye went out to get a second gold in a slightly less impressive 200m individual medley display.
The issue in many ways is not whether Ye is a drugs cheat (she is not as she has not been found guilty in a drugs test. This is the only objective measure that can be used.)
No. More disturbing has been the blatant hypocrisy displayed by John Leonard – the American coach who started the furore.
As Chinese officials have pointed out – no one ever suggested that Olympic Champion Michael Phelps was a drugs cheat after winning 8 gold medals.
The Daily Mail threw up the past indiscretions by some East German athletes next to pictures of young Chinese children being trained hard in the far east, presumably to illustrate the “you may have fooled the drug testers but you can’t fool us” mentality.
Quite what these two countries have in common, except some loose political similarities in the minds of paranoid anti Communist right wing ranters, is beyond me.
Then you have the digs about her physique and personality with the Independent’s James Lawton suggesting she swam slower in her 200m victory so as not arose further suspicion.
With the BOA and Ye’s father coming to her defence and Chinese authorities understandably accusing detractors of racism, sports scientists have been dragged out to explain how her kick to breath ratio was unusual, once again keeping the issue live and sewing seeds of doubt into sports fans.
And even former British swimming competitor Adrian Moorhouse defended Leonard saying he “understood” why Leonard would make these comments because the East German drugs programme was not outed sooner back in the late 80’s.
None of these points deal with the one problematic fact which in this case, gets in the way of a big scoop – Ye has passed 100 drugs tests.
Apart from the obvious “sour grapes” jibe one could level at Leonard, he should be careful not to throw stones at glasshouses, particularly when you consider the United States track record on drugs in Olympic sport is hardly glowing.
No-one has yet mentioned US sprint star Carl Lewis who was the beneficiary of a drugs cover-up before the infamous 1988 Seoul Olympics.
Over 10 years later he admitted he had tested positive for banned substances but claimed he was just one of “hundreds” of American athletes who were allowed to escape bans.
Revealed by the Guardian, he said at the time: “There were hundreds of people getting off,.” “Everyone was treated the same.”
Convicted drugs cheat Canadian Ben Johnson who won that 100m race in 88′ has always insisted that if he had been American he would not have been caught out.
All countries past and present have a history with drugs.
But the obsession with Ye uncovers a more sinister agenda – using the Olympics as an arena to get one over on political foes.
Regardless of where one puts themselves politically, the Olympics is a place to showcase sporting prowess and to revel in honest fair competition.
If it is to survive the drug testing needs to consistently improve and people need to invest some belief in that process.
Otherwise, political agendas will be played out in the court of public opinion, not to assist the sport in rooting out cheats but to muddy the waters and in effect call the whole notion of the games into question.