LONDON -- First, there was this screaming headline in Britain’s Daily Mail: “US Attacks China Over Drugs Row Supergirl Swimmer.”
But the next move in the swim pool tat-for-tat war of words between the United States and China was truly bizarre and strangely out of focus, as a former Olympic doctor from China promptly decided to throw Michael Phelps and his 15 gold medals under the bus.
If the doctor, Chen Zhanghao, was trying to steer the conversation away from newly minted gold medalist Ye Shiwen and defend the teenager, it came off as clumsy and ill-advised in comments reported by the Sydney Morning Herald. Chen was in charge of the Chinese team’s medical staff through four Olympics, starting in Los Angeles in 1984.
“Abnormal?” Chen was quoted as saying to the newspaper, “America’s Phelps broke seven world records! Is he normal?
“I suspect Phelps, but without evidence, I have to recognize that we should be grounded in facts. The Americans have made many extraordinary performances, but without evidence we have kept silent.”
Yes, that appears to be an important thing, doesn’t it?
The best line of the story by the newspaper’s correspondent in China was in regard to Chen’s current credibility, noting that he “is arguably tainted by his own role in sports doping in the ‘80s and ‘90s, as revealed in an interview with Fairfax [owner of the Sydney Morning Herald].”
As doping allegations raged about Ye, U.S. swimming officials scrambled Tuesday to distance themselves from the story.
John Leonard, the Florida-based executive director of the World Swimming Coaches Assn., called Ye’s performance “impossible” and “unbelievable” on Monday, telling the Guardian that similarly rapid improvements by swimmers have been followed by evidence of doping.
Ye, 16, set a world record in winning the women’s 400-meter individual medley Saturday and won the 200 IM on Tuesday, one night after 17-year-old Missy Franklin set an American record in winning gold in the 100-meter backstroke.
U.S. women’s Coach Teri McKeever said record-setting performances should not be unexpected at the Olympics.
“Of course you are going to watch and be impressed and have questions,” McKeever said. “How the hell could Missy do what she did? That’s pretty impressive too. We are pushing the envelope in elitism. We should see things we’ve never seen before.”
McKeever declined to discuss whether she was skeptical of the legitimacy of Ye’s performance.
“I don’t have a space for that right now,” McKeever said.
In a statement, USA Swimming said, “John Leonard ... is not an employee, representative or spokesperson for USA Swimming, nor is he a member of the U.S. Olympic Swim Team or a part of the U.S. delegation here in London.”
—Lisa Dillman and Bill Shaikin
The bottom line: Wodjan Shahrkhani will be able to compete in the 78-kilogram judo event because of a compromise crafted between International Judo Federation officials and the Saudi Olympic Committee.
She is one of two Saudi female athletes selected for ground-breaking inclusion in the 2012 Games.
The issue in question was her required headscarf (hijab). The federation had been concerned about safety issues on the mat during the match.
How the groups reached an accord was unclear, as no specifics about the compromise were offered.
On Tuesday, International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams said in a briefing that an agreement had been reached about “a suitable head covering.”
Mere pennies for Sir Paul
The 2012 London Olympics may have spent $42 million to stage its massively theatrical opening ceremony, but hardly any of that money went to the man who closed the evening with a rendition of “Hey Jude.”
Paul McCartney performed for an unprincely sum of 1 pound — about $1.50 — at Olympic Stadium on Friday night.
The former Beatle and other musicians in the Danny Boyle-directed extravaganza, such as Mike Oldfield and Emeli Sande, offered to play for free but were paid a pittance for contractual purposes.
That meant they sang for less than 1/20th of the cost of the least expensive seat in the house that night.
“Mind you, I haven’t received anything yet,” Sande told the Telegraph. “When I do, though, that 1 pound will be truly special.”