Youngest Athletes in 2012 Olympics Beat US Superstars: Why China is the New Rival For Team USA

Sixteen-year-old Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen, who took gold in Monday’s 400m IM, swam the last 50m faster than U.S, champion Ryan Lochte. Her finishing sprint was a lightning-speed 28.93 seconds that put Lochte’s 29.1 finish to shame, and she shaved a second off of the world record and five seconds off of her own personal best. Although Miss Ye has denied any accusations of using performance-enhancing drugs, talk of doping is swirling.

World Swimming Coaches Association Executive Director John Leonard, who is American, spoke out against her performance: “History in our sport will tell you that every time we see something, and I will put quotations around this, unbelievable,” he told The Guardian, “history shows us that it turns out later on there was doping involved.” 

He even went so far as to suggest that China had resorted to genetic manipulation to produce Olympic-caliber athletes.

Leonard compared her performance to that of the East German swimmers like Petra Schnieder, who represented the Soviet Union at a time when the international rivalry between the two great superpowers spilled over into the games, and many of whom renounced or were stripped of their gold medals after proof of doping surfaced.

Meanwhile, Xu Qi, head of the Chinese swimming team, told sources that “Ye Shiwen has been seen as a genius since she was young, and this performance vindicates that,” adding that the accusation “shows lack of respect for athletes and for Chinese swimming.”

Even if Ye’s results weren’t achieved through doping, descriptions of the training regimes that Chinese swimmers undergo are terrifyingly brutal. Photos show young children crying as they’re forced into grueling physical training. It’s said that the training facility where Miss Ye was groomed to become the “Mandarin Mermaid” has “GOLD” emblazoned on the wall, which Western sources are calling brainwashing. Children as young as kindergarteners are identified based on physical potential, taken from their homes, and put into training programs that stretch the limits of the human body.

This system could soon collapse, both from external criticism in the form of investigation of doping infractions and from internal conflict. Lu Ying, a 23-year old member of the Chinese swimming team, just spoke out against the training regimes Chinese swimmers are forced to undergo, saying that her time spent training under Australia’s far freer system had been more enjoyable and more beneficial.

The news coverage of the Olympics has used the preparation of the athletes as a metaphor for the different countries’ policies: while American athletes are driven by a love of the sport that matches the freedom of their country, goes the narrative, representatives of Communist China are groomed to be medal machines. Both Leonard and Xu’s statements reveal concerns beyond the fate of one individual swimmer. Just as in the days of the Soviet Union, the Olympic games are being used as a battlefield for international dominance.