While the U.S. is consumed with Gabby Douglas’ success in the women’s gymnastics all-around competition, a furor of a different sort has brewed in the pool. When the petite 16-year old Ye Shiwen of China won the 200-meter individual medley, media outlets — and the NBC’s Olympics commentators — began using highly colored language to describe her “incredible” and “unbelievable” performance.
Accusations of doping have tainted what would otherwise be a moment of unadulterated glory for the Chinese swimmer. Ugly comparisons to the East German swimmers, who were found to have participated in a massive state-run doping scandal, have been made. Records of Ye’s previous times, on which she made a vast improvement upon in her gold medal-winning effort, have been used as evidence of her assumed wrongdoing.
Ye has yet to be officially accused, much less proven, of any wrongdoing. Her youth makes it possible that simple hormonal and physical changes in her body might have dramatically improved her competitive capacity just in time for her to peak at the Olympics. That's something that should be celebrated rather than looked at askance.
It’s interesting — and troubling — to see how Ye’s nationality has affected the world’s perception of her victory. When Phelps made history at the 2008 Games, did anyone accuse him of doping even though he delivered an unprecedented series of dominating performances? No.
To what extent, then, is skepticism about Ye’s performance born out of mistrust of the Chinese Communist Party? It’s a question worth examining, as it cuts to the core of a more fundamental dilemma about how much — or little — sport and politics really mix. No one can deny that politics, particularly the U.S.versus China struggle that has dominated international political commentary for the past decade, is directly influencing the direction of the debate over Ye Shiwen.