Stand aside Michael Phelps, the teenagers have made the biggest splash at London 2012

 

They came, they saw, they conquered and now they go back to school. While Michael Phelps will return to Baltimore having cemented his place in history with another barrow load of Olympic gold, even he has been upstaged in the Olympic pool by a quartet of teenagers.

The story of the week in the London Aquatics Centre was a fairytale written around two schoolgirls from the US and one from Lithuania via Plymouth. The fourth is more complicated. The fear is it might prove to be taken from a Brothers Grimm tale.

Ye Shiwen was the first teenager to propel herself into the limelight on opening night last Saturday. The 16-year-old will return to Zhejiang province in the south-west of China with two gold medals, one world and one Olympic record. That is not all that will accompany her home. She will travel too with a cloud of suspicion that may not be dispelled for the eight years that her samples will be retained - as all now are as a matter of course - by the International Olympic Committee.

The reaction in China to the flurry of questions over Ye's achievements was to dismiss it as western bias. Ye's improvement, and do not forget she was already a world champion, was dramatic but not as startling as the times registered by Ruta Meilutyte or Kate Ledecky, both a year younger. Ledecky has knocked 20 seconds off her personal best since competing in the US national junior championships last year.

Late on Friday night, long after her stunning victory over Rebecca Adlington, Ledecky was asked a straight question. Given the doubts that surround Ye, should those not also apply to your swim as well?

"That's totally false," said Ledecky. She was unphased by the question. "I just put in a lot of hard work this year, that's all I've been doing, just progressively setting with my coach short-term goals and long-term goals, taking time off progressively. Because of that, I've been able to get down where I am here."

The bias defence deployed by the Chinese does not stand. Sun Yang, their brilliant freestyle swimmer, has shone in London, overall only the US have won more medals and accusation does not swirl around any of them.

There is one striking similarity between Ye and Ledecky. Both started swimming with intent aged six. China's intensive training programme though remains deeply controversial. "We realised long ago that our daughter doesn't belong to us completely," admitted the father of the diving gold medallist Wu Minxia earlier this week. Ye has been part of the system for a decade now and the results in the pool are plain to see.

Ledecky started swimming for her local club in Maryland at six. It was in the same year she first met Phelps. She asked him for his autograph. She saw him again on Friday night, as she waited in the call room for her final. Phelps was walking out with gold medal number 17 swinging round his neck. They high-fived. "Have some fun out there," advised Phelps.

Ledecky was now so excited that she went out too fast, only to then discover she could keep going and going. Only Adlington has ever swum the 800m quicker. Last September Ledecky and her coach had sat down and discussed their aims for the year. They decided to be bold and try and make the Olympic team. She is now a gold medallist.

"She's 15 and has got a gold medal, it's insane," said Elizabeth Beisel of her team-mate. Earlier that night Beisel, soon to turn an elderly 20, had trailed in behind Missy Franklin (taking a bronze to add to a silver for finishing in Ye's wake). It was a third gold medal for Franklin and a first world record for a 17-year-old competing in her first Games.

Franklin was no unknown when she arrived in London as she faced the busiest schedule of any woman, competing in six events. Three firsts, a third, fourth and fifth is a phenomenal achievement.

Like Ledecky, Franklin will not have much problem filling her "what I did this summer" assignment when she returns to school in Aurora, Colorado. Both go home determined to finish their schooling no matter what has happened in London. Franklin has turned down numerous commercial offers to concentrate only on her sport and her education, while Ledecky, who lives in Bethseda in Maryland, will still swim for her school team in between studies (and international duties).

What would Ledecky's classmates make of her coming home with a gold medal. "Kind of neat I guess," she said and grinned, looking every inch the teenager. In the pool she looks anything but, and neither do Meilutyte, Franklin or Ye. It is little wonder Adlington is pondering retiring at the grand old age of 23.

Voices
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appeal
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly finalists Simon Webbe, Caroline Flack, Mark Wright and Frankie Bridge
tvLive: Simon Webbe, Caroline Flack, Mark Wright and Frankie Bridge face-off in the final
Sport
Ched Evans in action for Sheffield United in 2012
footballRonnie Moore says 'he's served his time and the boy wants to play football'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture