The head of the International Olympic Committee’s anti-doping program has come to the defence of Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen, a 16-year-old who has astounded spectators and competitors with her performances at the Games.
On Saturday, Ye broke the world record in the 400 individual medley by more than one second, finishing in 4:28.43. Just as impressive, she covered the last 50 metres faster than the men’s gold medalist, American Ryan Lochte, something Lochte said was “insane.” Ye continued her strong showing Monday by finishing well ahead of the field in qualifying for the 200-metre individual medley.
“To immediately suspect someone [because of performance] is a bit sad,” Arne Ljungqvist, head of the IOC’s medical commission and a director of the World Anti Doping Agency, said Monday. “Should a sudden rise in performance or a surprise win be primarily suspected for being a cheat, sport is in danger for sure. Because it partly ruins the charm of competitive sport if a surprise win is surrounded by suspicions and question marks.”
When asked directly about Ye's performance, Ljungqvist said he was not suspicious.
“I have been in anti doping since 40 years. Should I have my suspicions, I keep them for myself first of all and maybe take any action if so in order to find out what is happening. You asked me specifically about this particular swimmer, I say no. I haven’t personally any reason to [doubt] what has happened until I have the facts.”
Ye addressed the issue Monday as well.
"There's absolutely no problem with the doping. The Chinese team has always had a firm policy about anti-doping," she told reporters after her heat.
The IOC and WADA have changed their anti-doping strategy in recent years, moving away from random testing and toward targeting athletes the organizations suspect of cheating. For example, WADA now relies on intelligence gathering from police, border officials and other agencies to decided who to test, particularly out of competition.
Jonathan Harris, who heads the anti-doping program at the London Games, said officials meet daily during the Games to assess intelligence and decide which athletes to test. He added that everyone working at the Games, including cleaning staff at the athletes village, has been instructed to watch for any signs of doping and report it to the anti-doping officials.
The doping program in London plans to test 5,000 athletes during the Games, including the top four finishers in every competition. So far, two athletes have tested positive; a weightlifter from Albania and a gymnast from Uzbekistan. A sprinter from St. Kitts and Nevis also admitted to her Olympic committee on Sunday that she took banned drugs.
While not questioning Ye, Ljungqvist said a sudden improvement in performance is one indicator WADA and the IOC use to target testing.
“Of course should a sudden rise in performance occur in a particular person we could possibly [use it] as a reason to do it. But I would also say that it is tragic if that should be the primary reason for doing the testing.”
He also said that the true measure of the success of anti-doping programs is year-round testing, when athletes can be caught off guard. However that testing is left largely to individual countries and the commitment varies.
"An out-of-competition testing program should be very extensive and not that many nations do have that in place, I have to admit that," Ljungqvist said. "I would argue that very few [countries] would live up to my ideal in that sense."