Saturday night China’s 16 year old swimmer Ye Shiwen won gold in the women’s 400-meter IM, broke the world record and, ostensibly most important of all, swam faster than Ryan Lochte for 50 meters of her race.
Yahoo! Sports reports:
But it was her final 100 meters – the freestyle leg of the event – that raised eyebrows. Not only did Shiwen go virtually stroke-for-stroke with Lochte – who had won gold in the men’s 400 IM earlier in the night – she beat Lochte in the final 50 meters. Shiwen went 28.93 in her final 50 and 58.68 in her final 100 of her 400 IM. Lochte went 29.10 in his final 50. And the final 100 meters of the pair? Lochte went 58.65 to Shiwen’s 58.68. . . . Not minutes after . . . accusations started to fly. You know the type. She must be doping.
I don’t take issue with raising questions of Shiwen doping. The fact is that she had never won the event before in international competition, had never even medaled in an international event before last year (although this may be a product of her age), but then on Saturday she managed to beat the previous world record for the event, held by Australia’s Stephanie Rice, but more than one second. And besides, would it really surprise anyone if China - who had doping scandals in both the 80s and 90s and who cheated at the Olympics as recently as 2008 when it filled its women’s gymnastics team with underage athletes – was permitting (or even encouraging) doping among its athletes? Obviously I don’t know whether she is or not, and I’ll reserve judgment until we inevitably know more, but I don’t think it is unfair to raise the question.
I do take issue with the focus on comparing Shiwen to Ryan Lochte. The way it’s been framed, she’s not doping because she came out of nowhere and crushed the female world record by over a second, she’s doping because she “chicked” the U.S.’s new poster child male swimmer. I mean is that really the most unbelievable or noteworthy part of the story? That she swam faster than a guy? For the last one-eighth of the race? There may very well be a story developing here, but that’s not it.
But one of our readers had a different take. He thought that, however frustrating this may be, most viewers don’t realize how big of a difference one second makes in these races. He thought that the fact that a female swam faster than a male (who in turn swam faster than superstar Michael Phelps) was a more relatable and meaningful statistic to every day viewers than the fact that a female beat another female’s world record by over a second. I don’t agree, or maybe I just don’t want to agree. What do you think?
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