LONDON, England ● Weighed down by the tide of suspicion or maybe just a little tired after her prodigious feats, Chinese teenager Ye Shiwen had to battle all the way to claim victory in the 200 metres individual medley for her second gold of the Games on Tuesday.
The 16-year-old has been at the centre of a media storm since her crushing world record triumph in the 400 medley three days ago, with detractors suggesting her eye-popping final freestyle leg was evidence enough that she must be using performance-enhancing drugs.
Others leapt to her defence, accusing the critics of racism and pointing out that far from appearing out of the blue, Ye, a world champion over the 200 medley last year, had been very much on the sport’s radar for years.
In the 400 she trailed American world champion Elizabeth Beisel after the penultimate breaststroke leg before charging a final 50 of 28.93 seconds – quicker than Ryan Lochte’s equivalent in winning the men’s event – set the rumour-mill into overdrive.
She trailed again on Monday. Last off the blocks she turned fourth after the opening butterfly before forcing her way into a narrow lead after the backstroke.
She was pegged back again on the breaststroke, turning third behind American Caitlin Leverenz and Australian Alicia Coutts.
The 17,000 crowd, well aware of what Ye had done in similar circumstances three days ago, sat back in expectation of something special, but this time there was no spectacular surge from the favourite.
She did have enough though to eventually reel her rivals in and went on to win in two minutes 07.57 seconds, an Olympic record but almost a second outside the world record of American Ariana Kukors, who finished fifth.
Coutts, who won a relay gold on Saturday, got up for silver in 2.08.15, with Leverenz taking bronze ahead of 2008 champion Stephanie Rice of Australia.
It was the fifth successive Olympics that a female swimmer had taken both individual medley golds – a trend started by Ireland’s Michele Smith, who was later banned for a doping offence.
It was a topic that dominated the post-race news conference, with a barrage of questions aimed at Ye and Coutts.
Asked directly if she had ever used performance-enhancing drugs, Ye answered through an interpreter: “Absolutely not.
“It is a bit unfair to me but I was not affected by it,” she said of the suspicions swirling in her midst.
“I want to thank my team mates, my coaches and my parents, who make me strong – that’s why I’m not affected by outside noise.”
Ye agreed with the suggestion that the critics were biased against China, asking why other multi-medallists were not similarly accused.
She attributed her success instead to hard work – swimming five hours a day for nine years.
Asked what she thought of the accusations, Leverenz said: “I’m not the person to judge or point fingers.
“That’s for (governing body) FINA and (World Anti-Doping Agency) WADA and I trust that they are doing a good job.
“I’d like to congratulate her. She won two golds and has had an awesome meet.”