Ye Shiwen, the 16 year old dreamy girl superstar, and the ugly world
As a sports enthusiast, I follow a lot of less known athletes, of which some eventually became superstars, but far more just faded. A superstar example was Liu Xiang. I started following him in 2002 after he clocked 13.12” at age 19. It takes knowledge and experience to link up 13.12” and 19, and figure out the potentiality – or quite frankly just a lot of time waste nurturing a hobby.
The first time I watched Ye Shiwen swimming in a live race on TV, was the 200 meter Individual Medley (IM) in the 2011 FINA World Championships held in Shanghai. I had started following Ye Shiwen since 2010 but had never actually watched her swim. In the 2010 Asian Games, she won 3 gold medals and ended the year ranking #1 in 200m IM, and #2 in 400m IM in the world. 2010 was in the middle of two Olympic Games, and sometimes the rankings don’t mean nearly as much as in an Olympic year – but she was only 14!
After 150 meter, Ye was either #4 or #5. I thought to myself, geez just another flash in the pan, another one-hit wonder. You know, China had plenty of those, because sometimes coaches push youngsters so hard, many of them peak out way too early and you can’t blindly put your faith in their future… Then something strange happened – Ye started speeding up in the last 50 meter freestyle swimming, and passing her competitors one by one as if she was gliding through the water. She won the race and claimed the best textile time ever (in short, time made outside of the tech-suit era).
For some reason, she then reminded me of Janet Evans, whose swim gave me the same impression of gliding through the water. As I knew Ye more, she was just like Janet Evans. She has that Evans-like boyish haircut, smooth and glowing skin, disarming and radiant smile, feminine and slender body, and especially that sunny and care-free disposition. She thanked her parents every time she won. She talked about loving to shop in Taobao, and dreaming about going to Disneyland in Hong Kong again. Much like Evans being the “American sweetheart” then, Ye is the “Chinese sweetheart”. She is everybody’s sister, daughter or grand-daughter. To borrow a line from Obama, if I had a daughter, she’d look just like Ye Shiwen – or at least I wish.
By now you probably already know the rest. She won 2 gold medals in the London Olympic Games by sizeable margins, and there have been insinuations that her winnings are not because of her talent, and hard work, but rather doping. By my count, a long list of Western media outlets, mostly American and British ones, i.e. NBC, New York Times, Washington Post, BBC, Telegraph, etc. and an army of online sites, have been all over her. Mind you she has been tested many times and always clean. But…… so had been Marion Jones, or even Lance Armstrong. I agree that you can’t ascertain one never doped just because s/he was tested clean. So whatever is accused of Ye Shiwen can equally and quite possibly more rationally be put on a lot of superstar swimmers whom I’d rather not name. However, I will address a few misconceptions here:
Ye came from nowhere.
Ye ranked #1/#2, #1/#3 in 200m/400m IM in 2010 and 2011 respectively.
Ye improved her time by 7 seconds in a year. Nobody improves that fast.
First, here is the table of Ye’s times since 2010:
|Major Meet||Asian Games||FINA World Championship||London Olympics|
|200m IM @ Major Meet||2:09.37||2:08.90||2:07.57|
|400m IM @ Major Meet||4:33.79||4:35.15||4:28.43|
|200m IM annual best||2:09.37||2:08.90||2:07.57|
|400m IM annual best||4:33.79||4:33.66||4:28.43|
The “7 seconds” improvement (actually 6.72 second improvement) is the 400m IM improvement over the last major meet in 2011, during which Ye by her own account underperformed as a 15 year old then in her first major world meet. The improvement over her previous personal best, is 5.23 second, which is a 1.9% improvement in one year. It’s hardly rare, let alone unprecedented for a 16 year old. Ruta Meilutyte, a 15 year old Lithuanian girl, won the gold in 100 meter breaststroke and improved her personal best by 4.0% in the same London Olympics.
Also notice that Ye has grown from 1.65m in 11/2010 to 1.72m in 7/2012. The girl is still growing, and a 1.9% improvement is too much?!
Ye swam faster than the fastest man Ryan Lochte! How is it biologically possible?
What this is really about, is that Ye swan 28.93” in the last 50 meters of her 400m IM race, and Lochte won the gold in the same event by swimming the last 50 meters in 29.10”. Impossible, right?
First, Lochte’s 400m IM time was 4:05.18, overall 23.25″ faster than Ye in the same event.
Second, Lochte didn’t even swim the top 3 fastest last 50 meters in his own race. Yuya Horihata had the fastest last 50 meters, in 27.87”. Of course, Ye swan the last 50 meters only 1.06” slower than the fastest last 50-meter swimming in the same men’s event, doesn’t sound nearly as impossible.
Third, 28.93” isn’t even the fastest women split in a long-distance swim. Rebecca Adlington swan the last 50 meters in 28.91” after 750 meters (compared to Ye’s 350 meters) in 800m freestyle of the 2011 FINA World Championship.
The Final Word
A lot has been said about this 16 year old girl. There are some real head scratchers out there. John Leonard, the “highly respected” American director of the World Swimming Coaches Association, suggested that Ye should be tested for “genetic manipulation”. That’s somewhere between crazy, and the R word – Retarded. He also stated, “any time someone has looked like Superwoman in the history of our sport they have later been found guilty of doping.” By “superwoman”, since unlike most uninformed folks out there Leonard should know Ye’s improvement isn’t all that impressive, does he mean the margin of the victory? If that’s the metric, I don’t think Janet Evans, Inge de Bruijin, Rebecca Adlington, Kristy Coventry, Rebecca Soni, etc. have been found doping, unless Leonard knows something the public doesn’t. Or unless, I hate to use the R word, the idea of doping and Superwoman is only applicable to the Restricted type.
In a way, it’s the ugly world we are in, and the people we have to live with. Ye Shiwen, the dreamy 16 year old Chinese sweetheart, don’t you ever look back. Dream big, swim big and live a big life. That is your biggest revenge on those small people.
- perspectivehere made an excellent point in this comment regarding taking Ye’s improvement in proper context.