Leaders: Unproven slur on swimmer bad for her and the Games
It was gold again for 16-year-old Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen last night. As she stepped out in front of the crowd for the final of the 200m individual medley she looked relaxed and even managed a smile.
Remarkable, given the furore surrounding her after her 400m individual medley victory on Saturday. In that contest not only did she claim a world record, but in the last length she got a faster time than the fastest man in the equivalent competition. Last night the contest was much closer, and Ye only managed a new Olympic record, not a world record.
Ye’s first victory was initially a cause for celebration. A young athlete had once again proved that the human body was capable of going beyond what had previously been thought possible in the pursuit of the ultimate achievement. In a Games marred by the failure of the “Olympic family”, as the many bureaucrats and hangers-on are known, to turn up to events, a bright new heroine had emerged.
Then American John Leonard, executive director of the World Swimming Coaches Association, claimed Ye’s performance was “suspicious”, bringing back “awful memories” of the Irish swimmer Michelle Smith’s race in the same event at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Smith, hailed a heroine at the time, was banned for four years in 1998 for tampering with a urine sample.
In the time it took to conduct an interview, Leonard’s remarks not only tarnished the reputation of a young athlete, but immediately cast a dark cloud over a Games which the International Olympic Committee had gone to great lengths to ensure were not tainted by allegations of doping.
It should be pointed out that Mr Leonard has no evidence to back up his claim. The athlete herself is adamant she has not taken any banned drugs and many stars of the past, including Australian Ian Thorpe, have pointed to the way young bodies can develop quickly in a sport like swimming, leading to astonishing improvements over a short period of time.
Given that Mr Leonard cannot prove his allegations, that other experienced swimmers have leaped to her defence, and the Olympic authorities have an extensive drugs-testing programme, it is impossible not to sympathise with the young Chinese girl. On the principle of being innocent until proven guilty, therefore, she should be recognised as a great champion.
If, in subsequent test results , Ye is proved to have used performance-enhancing drugs she should, of course, be banned and have her medals taken away from her. Until such time, if it ever comes, Mr Leonard should withdraw his claims, which have damaged not only the reputation of a talented young woman but have cast an ugly pall over the Games which are supposed to encapsulate the high ideals of fair play and sporting excellence. And isn’t it sad that the drug cheats of the past can still cast a long, dark shadow over the Olympic Games in 2012.
Poll plunge won’t panic Salmond
Just as one swallow does not a summer make, so one poll does not make, or break, a political party. Nevertheless, the latest YouGov survey should be a cause of concern for Alex Salmond as he seeks to convince Scots of the benefits of independence.
According to YouGov, support for independence has dropped by three points since January when the SNP announced – with great fanfare and amid high expectations – its intention to hold a referendum on separating Scotland from the UK in 2014.
Although the race to the plebiscite is a marathon, not a sprint, to use an Olympian metaphor, the poll clearly shows the SNP is so far failing to achieve momentum, “the Big Mo” which US political strategists say is vital in building up to victory.
However, Nationalists’ opponents, who include the Labour Party-affiliated Fabians, would be wise not to get too carried away with these results; for several reasons.
First, as his seizing of minority government at Holyrood in 2007 and his stunning victory last year prove, one should never underestimate Mr Salmond’s ability as a persuader, particularly as he is supported by a slick, well-funded party machine.
Second, the poll shows that for Holyrood elections the SNP remains popular with the voters though, contrary-wise, Labour is ahead in the Westminster standings.
Finally, if it is “the economy, stupid” which determines how people vote, it is impossible to predict where Scotland will be in two years’ time.
Mr Salmond will not be panicking over this poll, but he will be thinking about what he needs to do to gain momentum.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 19 C
Wind Speed: 15 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 15 mph
Wind direction: West