Coaches backtrack on Chinese doping speculation
LONDON, July 31 (Reuters) - Doping speculation swirling around Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen is unfair and may be triggered as much by where she comes from as her remarkable performances in the Olympic pool, rival team coaches said on Tuesday.
Ye won the women's 400 individual medley in world record time at the London Aquatics Centre, with her last freestyle length faster than American men's champion Ryan Lochte.
The time was also some five seconds faster than her previous personal best but, while eye-catching, that was not particularly unusual given that it dated from when she was a 14-year-old. She is now 16.
"While there is no positive test, there's nothing to say. That's it," French coach Denis Auguin, whose swimmer Alain Bernard won 100 metres freestyle gold at the 2008 Beijing Games, told Reuters in the poolside mixed zone after morning heats.
"Effectively it is very astonishing but you see other astonishing things in swimming, extraordinary things," he added.
"When Alain began to emerge at Eindhoven (the 2008 European championships), we had the same comments which are really, while one pretends not to care, extremely hurtful and dishonourable."
Bernard had broken Dutchman Pieter van den Hoogenband's nearly eight-year-old 100 freestyle world record twice in the space of two days to win the European title before he went to Beijing.
The latest controversy blew up after American John Leonard, executive director of the World Swimming Coaches Association, commented on Ye's time in an interview with Britain's Guardian newspaper.
Leonard, who is not part of the U.S. coaching staff in London, said that history showed that every time something 'unbelievable' occurred in swimming, it turned out ultimately to involve doping.
Asked whether he thought there would have been so much fuss had a swimmer from a different nationality broken the record on such fashion, Auguin shook his head.
"If it was another country there'd be fewer questions asked," he said. "There's a bit of an injustice in that, even if the past shows us that there were some abnormal practices in China."
China briefly dominated women's swimming in the 1990s but their reign ended as fast as it began, following a series of doping scandals.
China has vehemently rejected suggestions of doping and defended Ye's performances and criticised what it sees as a lack of respect for its athletes.
More than 6,000 urine and blood samples will be analysed during the 2012 Games, more than at any other Olympics, and any of the more than 10,000 athletes can be asked to test at any time.
Ye is among a handful of elite Chinese swimmers trained by Australian coaches in Australia.
David Marsh, one of the U.S. team coaches, said his first thought when he saw Ye's performance was to wonder what sort of training routines she was doing.
"It's my responsibility as a coach to investigate how that performance can happen, because it was a phenomenal performance," he said.
"She obviously did some incredible sets and workout."
Marsh said that coaches were rarely as surprised by performances in competition as the media and public because they were well aware of what was going on in training. Others agreed with that assessment.
"Unfortunately whether it be in our sport or other sports, some people just jump to conclusions when they see something they think was impossible. I don't know why society is like that," said U.S. head women's coach Teri McKeever.
"It's not like we haven't seen her before, she's won a world championship. We saw something that's never been done before, but we see that all the time as well," she added.
Bob Bowman, coach to 14 times gold medallist Michael Phelps who can chalk up a record-equalling 18th Olympic medal on Tuesday, was of a similar opinion.
"Honestly, I don't think 4:28 is an impossible time," he told reporters. "I think the girl has good technique and she did an amazing last 100 but people do amazing things sometimes.
"I trust the system, I feel very confident with the testing procedures." (Editing by Greg Stutchbury)