David Gray / Reuters
China's Ye Shiwen poses with her gold medal on the podium during the women's 400m individual medley victory ceremony at the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Aquatics Center on Saturday.
BEIJING – On the heels of her second gold medal performance, China’s state media have come to the defense of Chinese swimmer, Ye Shiwen, ending their relative silence on the doping allegations that have plagued the young female swimmer since her recording-breaking performance last weekend.
On Saturday night, the 16-year-old Ye demolished the world record in the 400 individual medley, coming from behind to win gold in 4:28.43. Besides swimming that race nearly seven seconds faster than her winning performance at the FINA World Championships in Shanghai last year, she also incredibly outpaced American gold medalist Ryan Lochte’s final 50 in the men’s race by a split-second.
Lochte won the 400 medley with the second-fastest time in history.
Ye’s dominant performance raised eyebrows among some swimming experts, including John Leonard, the head of the American Swimming Coaches Association who openly questioned the legitimacy of Ye’s victory.
“History in our sport will tell you that every time we see something, and I put quotation marks around this, ‘unbelievable,’ history shows us that it turns out later on there was doping involved,” Leonard was quoted as saying.
Questions were renewed Tuesday after Ye won again, this time breaking her own Olympic record in the 200 IM. The win made Ye the first two-time gold medal winner in Chinese swimming history.
It also made her a target for pointed questions regarding her impressive performances so far.
By all accounts, Tuesday’s press conference for Ye Shiwen following her 200 IM victory was inundated with questions regarding doping and performance-enhancing drugs.
However, for the Chinese press corps yesterday, the story was not so much Ye’s answers – as the media’s questions.
After a remarkably fast performance in the women's 400-meter individual medley, gold medal winner Ye Shiwen generated controversy. NBC's Chris Jansing reports.
One Chinese account of the press conference noted angrily that toward the end, one Western reporter directly asked Ye, “I’d like to ask you if you doped to win that gold medal. Please answer me directly with a ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’”
According to the report, Ye looked the reporter directly in the eye and shot back, “Absolutely no! Why am I the only one who is suspected of cheating when other foreign athletes also win multiple gold medals?”
The tone of the reporter’s question led to complaints from the furious Chinese press, many of whom felt professional and etiquette boundaries were breached.
“A 16-year-old genius not only can't enjoy her victory, but also has to be subjected to this ‘interrogation,’” one Chinese journalist reportedly said. “As Chinese journalists, we have the right to protest."
One person who did protest was Ye’s father, Ye Qingsong, who told a local Chinese news website here that, "The Western media have always been arrogant, and suspicious of Chinese people."
State media: a ‘deep bias’ by Western media
China’s state media have largely stayed quiet on the subject of doping, only mentioning in passing in some reports the accusations and Ye’s dismissal of them.
But following the press conference, the media stepped up to defend Ye.
China’s reliably nationalist newspaper, Global Times, chimed in with an editorial Wednesday that said negative comments about Ye were rooted in a “deep bias and reluctance from the Western press to see Chinese people making breakthroughs.”
“If Ye were an American, the tone would be different in Western media,” continued the editorial. “Michael Phelps won eight gold medals in the 2008 Games. Nobody seems to question the authenticity of his results, most probably because he is American.”
Nobody that is, except for China’s former Olympic doctor who claimed Tuesday he long suspected Michael Phelps as a doper, but remained silent because he had no evidence.
The Global Times acknowledged the country’s past doping incidents were an understandable source of suspicion towards Ye, but pointedly noted that she has passed doping tests conducted by the World Anti-Doping Agency.
On China’s state broadcaster, CCTV, coverage of the Olympic Games included an on-air comment from host Zhou Yafei, who noted that Ye had passed her doping test and she hoped “the Western media will change their bias and jealousy.”
Meanwhile, on China’s Twitter-like service, Weibo, the nearly 2.7 million comments about the embattled swimmer were overwhelming supportive and helped make her the biggest trending topic on the popular microfeed service as of Wednesday afternoon.
“Do they have to be so obvious with their envy?” wrote one poster of the West’s coverage of Ye’s victories.
“All medalists and other athletes are tested at the Games,” wrote another. “It’d be way better if everyone would shut the hell up unless the test finds anyone positive from doping.”
But for many netizens in China, solidarity with Ye has manifested itself in one simple play on her name that has spread around Weibo: “Ye Shiwen = Yes she wins.”
NBC News’ Tianzhou Ye and Joy Li contributed to this report