London 2012: Lord Coe says Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen should be given 'benefit of the doubt'


Click to follow
The Independent Online

London 2012 Chairman Lord Coe has said Chinese swimming sensation Ye Shiwen's success is not 'unthinkable' and she should be given the benefit of the doubt.

The 16-year-old smashed her personal best and beat the world record during the 400m individual medley - but the gloss was taken off her victory by critics who expressed concern over the winning margin.

However, Lord Coe said today his instinct was to "celebrate an extraordinary performance".

He said: "It is not the first time that teenagers have broken world records or won Olympic titles.

"You have got to be very careful when you suddenly assume that a massive and unexpected breakthrough in an event or a particular discipline is based on anything other than great coaching and extraordinary talent.

"I speak slightly from personal experience here, I remember in my late teen years I took four and a half seconds off my 800m personal best.

"So it is really not that unthinkable.

"My instinct is to always give benefit of the doubt to the competitor until proven otherwise. My instinct is to celebrate an extraordinary performance."

He compared Shiwen's success to that of sprinter Usain Bolt adding: "Nobody really noticed that until he explodes into a World Championships or an Olympic Stadium."

Ye, who has claimed two gold medals at the Games, has firmly denied taking performance-enhancing drugs.

Critics expressed concern after she took five seconds off her personal best and more than a second off the world record in the 400m individual medley.

She then claimed top spot on the podium during the 200m individual medley.

But when asked if she had used doping to improve her performance, she replied: "Absolutely not."

During last night's press conference, which was dominated by questions on doping, she claimed the criticism was undeserved.

She said: "I think this is a little bit unfair for me, however I was not affected by that. I'm not affected by the outside noise."

She continued: "I think that in other countries other swimmers have won multiple golds and no one has said anything.

"How come people criticise me just because I have multiple medals?"

American coach John Leonard described Ye's first gold medal performance as "disturbing" and "unbelievable".

Her swim was described as "insanely fast" by previous world record holder Steph Rice - indeed, in the final 50m, Ye swam faster than the men's champion Ryan Lochte.

But the Olympics' world body said drugs cheats at London 2012 would be caught and athletes who put in world record-breaking performances should be given the benefit of the doubt.

China's past record for their swimmers failing doping tests has led to the inevitable suspicions over teenager Ye.

During the 1990s, 40 Chinese swimmers tested positive for banned substances, and seven before the Beijing Games in 2008.

As recently as last month, 16-year-old world champion in the 4x100m medley Li Zhesi tested positive for the blood-boosting drug EPO.