Say what you wish about Ye Shiwen, but the Chinese swimmer whose exploits have dominated talk in the early days of the games gave a remarkably polished performance at her press conference on Tuesday night.
A packed room listened intently on headphones to the translation of her answers to repeated questions about her thoughts and reaction to the storm of controversy about whether or not she is “clean”.
The press conference lasted about 20 minutes, and although a US swimmer shared the stage with her, pretty much all the questions were directed at the Chinese girl.
Ye is 16 years old, but came across as a veteran rather than a novice. No coaches, no minders, came between her and the media. That may not sound out of the ordinary, but four years ago at the Beijing Olympics they hovered around the press conferences to shield and protect the Chinese athletes, particularly the younger ones, from awkward probing by the media.
The doping issue was the first question to be raised. “Of course this is a little bit unfair,” she said of the suspicions raised by some in the fraternity of swimming. “However, I was not affected by that.”
To what did she attribute her astonishing world record in Saturday’s 400m medley and last night’s second gold in the 200m medley? “We work really hard,” she said.
And how. For the last nine years, she has been in the pool for two and a half hours in the morning, two and a half hours in the evening. She was talent-spotted at the age of seven.
“The teachers in my kindergarten noticed I had a good physique so they picked me,” she said. Apparently, they spotted she had large hands.
To those who claim she must be cheating, her retort was as decisive as that of China’s anti-doping chief. “They are biased,” she said, making the not unreasonable point that swimmers from other countries who have a bunch of medals to their name do not come under such scrutiny.
Still, one reporter decided to take the plunge and ask the awkward question outright. Are you taking, or have you ever taken, performance-enhancing drugs? “Absolutely not,” came the reply.
Ye’s current predicament is the result of an unhappy history of Chinese athletes caught testing positive for such substances.
The question of doping is not for her but for the sports establishment in China to answer.
Her biography on the Olympics media website tells us not much more about her. She watches TV and reads detective novels. Perhaps they could start to prevent such suspicion arising by helping us know a little bit more about their athletes and their personalities.