x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Olympics: Ye Shiwen's fans come to her defence in China

As controversy surrounds the Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen following her record-breaking performances in the Olympics, the country's fans have come to the defence of the 16-year-old.

Ye Shiwen, right, stormed to gold in the 400m individual medley. Michael Dalder / Reuters
Ye Shiwen, right, stormed to gold in the 400m individual medley. Michael Dalder / Reuters

BEIJING // As controversy surrounds the Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen following her record-breaking performances in the Olympics, the country's fans have come to the defence of the 16-year-old.

The teenager's gold medal-winning swim in the 400m individual medley final on Saturday saw her break the world record and cut five seconds from her personal best but was branded "disturbing" and "unbelievable" by the executive director of the World Swimming Coaches Association, John Leonard.

The swimmer told reporters afterwards that her achievements stemmed from "diligence and training" and insisted she would not use performance-enhancing substances, saying "the Chinese people are innocent".

On Sina Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, users attacked those raising concerns over the remarkable form shown by Ms Ye, who also broke an Olympic record in her 200m medley semi-final.

A female Weibo user, "Super Mona", from Wuhan in central China, blamed "immoral foreign media" for raising concerns.

"You are our pride. Though you are really young, you are creating a great record ... Will be there to support you," she wrote.

Another user, "Shengjing Xiao Wangye" from Shenyang in China's north-east, said Ye should "just let those journalists from Europe or the US speculate".

"The result you got is because of your scientific and hard training for the past year. Ignore those brain-damaged journalists, their purpose is to distract you. Go, you are the best," he said.

Ms Ye was described as "the pride of China" by the Hong Kong-based Weibo user Kaki Chiu, who branded those who doubted the 16-year-old as "mannerless".

"Don't be influenced by them," she wrote. "You are excellent. All Chinese people will support you. Just be your best to win glory for the country ... Those people who look down on others will have their chins drop to the ground."

Lord Colin Moynihan, the chairman of the British Olympic Association also defended Ms Ye yesterday, saying she been checked by the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada). "She's been through Wada's programme and she's clean. That's the end of the story. Ye Shiwen deserves recognition for her talent," he said.

China's swimmers have previously been hit by doping controversies, notably in the 1990s, when dozens received bans, including seven found during to have taken banned substances during the 1994 Asian Games.

Officials defended Ms Ye, with Jiang Zhixue, anti-doping head at the country's General Administration of Sport, telling media Chinese athletes had undergone nearly 100 drug tests since arriving in the United Kingdom.

"Many were also tested by the international federations and the British antidoping agency. I can tell you that so far there was not a single positive case," he said on Monday.

The dramatic improvement in performance of China's swimmers was "the reward of our efforts in many years", according to Xu Qi, head of China's swimming team.

Even if discussion over Ms Ye's Olympic performances continues overseas, she seems destined to remain a favourite at home. Among the many offering online support was Diangmu, from the seaside city of Dalian.

"The Ye Shiwen era has come!" he wrote.

dbardsley@thenational.ae