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A great time at the pool, even with choppy waters
Publication Date : 09-08-2012
China's five gold medals overshadowed the 'controversy' over Ye's dominance
In the end, the cheers drowned out the doubts.
China reached the end of the eight-day London Olympics swimming event with five gold medals, its best haul in 28 years, as the nation finally joined the ranks of the sport's elite.
Thanks in large part to swimming prodigies Sun Yang and Ye Shiwen, China edged out once-dominant Australia to trail only the 16 gold medals of the United States in the final medal tally.
Sun highlighted the men's rise.
The 20-year-old Sun shattered his own world record by more than three seconds to claim the men's 1,500-metre freestyle on the last day of the event after winning the 400-metre against Korea's Park Tae-hwan to become the country's first men's swimming gold medallist.
Sun also led the men's team to a bronze in the 4x200-metre free, a feat that almost equalled his unexpected silver in the 200-metre.There are four more men on the team, led by Hao Yun in the freestyle and Chen Yin in the butterfly.
On the women's side, 16-year-old Ye set the 400-metre individual medley (IM) world record with a sensational final sprint in the final 100m that was faster than men's gold winner Ryan Lochte. She also won the 200-metre IM.
She wasn't alone. Jiao Liuyang turned her Beijing Olympics silver medal into gold in the 200-metre butterfly. Sprinter Lu Ying added a sliver in the 100-metre fly, while Li Xuanxu and Tang Yi collected bronze in both the 400-metre IM and 100-metre free.
"Finally, we can blend into the world mainstream in swimming," team leader Xu Qi said.
"It's the payoff of our four years of work since 2008 and can be attributed to a combination of foreign coaching and local development."
It wasn't all calm seas, though. John Leonard, a US coach, was among those who alleged Ye's performance might have been the result of doping, taking some of the fun out of the record for Chinese fans.
Still, some swimming greats supported China, crediting its swimmers' hard work. "[The questions and suspicions] will always be there when you swim extremely well," Russia's four-time Olympic champion swimmer Alexander Popov told China Daily recently.
"Just simply keep your heads down, and keep training and keep producing results. And I am sure Chinese swimming is much more capable of what we saw here."
Popov, who won the 50-metre and 100-metre free at the 1992 Barcelona Games and defended both in 1996 at Atlanta, describes himself as a staunch advocate of anti-doping measures. He defended Ye.
"I don't see any questions behind it," Popov said. "I don't listen to the gossip. I only see the fact. We didn't hear anything coming from her drug test, and the rest is just rubbish for me."
Swimming's world governing body FINA said there was "no factual basis" for speculation that Ye's Olympic medley double had been fuelled by banned drugs.
Three-time Olympian Natalie Coughlin, who regained her 100m backstroke title at the 2008 Beijing Games, wasn't surprised by Ye's massive improvements.
"It's typical, especially when you are growing so much physically," said Coughlin, who grabbed a bronze with the 4x100 free team in London.
"It's easier to have those big drops in time when you are 15 or 16. And just enjoy those big drops."
Coughlin, the three-time American swimmer of the year, felt bad for Ye.
"It's unfortunate. You don't want someone to have an amazing swim and people just jump to the conclusion that they were cheating," she said.
"As long as China is able to produce powerful athletes who do drug tests and pass it, I think that will go away."
Attributing the US' supremacy to an "extremely competitive" college system, the 29-year-old said she was happy the Chinese have found their own method of producing winners.
"The Chinese are doing very well," she said. "Look at the medal count - at least the swimming portion - they earned so many medals. I think it will continue to build upon how well they did last week."