Given the recent doping scandals in the world of sport and the furore that surrounded Ye Shiwen at the London Olympics, that’s the question many international reporters will undoubtedly be asking at the FINA World Championships in Barcelona, Spain, which kick off on Friday July 19 (though the swimming events don’t start until Sunday July 28).
Ye, of course, was the 16-year-old who won two gold medals at the London Olympics last summer, following which all manner of journalist and scientists who should have known better selectively used statistics – that Ye’s time was seven seconds faster than a race the year before (ignoring the fact that she had previously gone much quicker) or that she swam “faster than Ryan Lochte” because her final split was quicker (ignoring the fact that he was more than 23 seconds quicker overall) – to build a case that doesn’t really stand up.
Given China’s long history of doping – both in the pool and on the track – it is absolutely right to ask questions. It is also fair – again, given that history – to ask tougher questions of Chinese athletes than you would of athletes from other nations (look at today’s cyclists having to answer for the sins of the past). But nothing I have seen or read so far convinces me beyond reasonable doubt that Ye doped. Her time progressions for the 400 IM, the race that was scrutinized the most in London, were not dissimilar to those of Ian Thorpe in his mid-teens. You just know, though, that if she wins in Barcelona and – god forbid – sets another world record, those questions will quickly become accusations.
China’s other double Olympic swimming champion, Sun Yang, has not faced the same level of scrutiny as Ye, but has had plenty of problems of his own this year. He’ll be racing in the 400 m, 800 m and 1,500 m freestyle events, but not the 200 m freestyle, in which he won the silver medal in London. That’s because China can only select two athletes per event and teenagers Hao Yun and Wang Shun have got the nod.
There have been concerns over Sun’s conditioning since he has been training in isolation in Hong Kong rather than in Zhejiang province, which has one of the most advanced training facilities in the world, and Chinese swimming officials originally said that Sun would not be racing the 800 m free, a non-Olympic distance. But Sun then contradicted that on his Weibo account, and it now appears he will in fact be in three individual events, plus a relay.
Unwanted attention just seems to follow Sun Yang around, but, as Li Na knows well, that’s what happens when you are an idol to 1.3 billion people. China has set a conservative target of four swimming gold medals in Barcelona, because Chinese swimmers have four world fastest times this year, but don’t be surprised if they exceed that target: Ye doesn’t technically rank at the top of her events in 2013, but she’ll be an overwhelming favorite to win the medley events.