Two young women have achieved Olympic glory this week and yet one finds herself at the centre of a storm of allegations and denials while the other is receiving undiluted adoration.
It is fairly easy to start a conspiracy theory. All you do is add two and two together. Sometimes you’ll come up with four and your hunch is correct and sometimes your answer will be five and a long way from the truth. Cultural and political rivalries can cloud the picture and distort both answers.
So, let’s try asking a purely theoretical question that could easily lead to a conspiracy theory. How is it that the young woman whose Grandmother opened the Games has ended up with a Silver, given that she was much younger than most people on her team, and that her own mother presented her with the medal?
The idea of a Royal fix is unthinkable in London, but it might receive a more considered response in Beijing. For a good conspiracy theory to work, the person hearing about it has to have a willingness to believe that it may be true.
And given the row that has surrounded Ye Shiwen this week, people in China may feel more disposed to buying into a Zara conspiracy than anyone in Britain or the USA ever would.
When coaches see something unusually brilliant their first thought may be joy, but that can soon be followed by lingering doubts about some kind of sophisticated doping tactic. Sadly, these tactics are not unprecedented in sport.
But what if the answer is much simpler? Let’s consider ten facts about Ye Shiwen, but decide in advance that a conspiracy conclusion is unthinkable.
- Ye Shiwen was born in 1996, the year of the Olympic Games in Atlanta.
- Three years earlier, in 1993, China had lost its bid to host the 2000 Olympic Games.
- In 1995, a year before Yi Shiwen was born, a new eugenics law came into force in China in which all parents were given tests for genetic abnormalities. This health drive was designed to cut the number of people with genetic disorders being born in China. Eugenics is referred to as Yousheng in China. While it can be used to prevent health problems, some scientists are attracted by the power to match genes to produce so-called “super-humans”. Eugenics fell from favour in the West because of its associations with the Nazis.
- In Ye Shiwen’s home city of Hangzhou it is not uncommon for obstetricians to cite an expertise in eugenics in their credentials.
- Zeizhang University in Hangzhou is a leading centre of biomedical and genetic research and the city is a centre for bio-tech companies.
- Ye Shiwen’s parents were both talented athletes. According to The Guardian, her mother Ning Yiqing was a champion long jumper at school while her father Ye Qingsong was a talented runner.
- When Ye Shiwen was at kindergarten her teacher spotted her big hands and feet and recommended she take up swimming. Talent-spotting like this is common in China.
- Ye Shiwen attended a swimming academy in her home city that has produced other Olympic champions.
- Her parents have been supportive and try to keep her feet on the ground.
- Ye Shiwen has only just turned sixteen and she is swimming faster than ever.
So, perhaps the answer is simple. Forget about doping, but consider Ye Shiwen’s gene pool, look at the training pool she had access to in her home city and think about the size of the pool of talent that China has to draw from.
And you might draw similar conclusions about Zara. Her parents were both Olympic competitors. Her father, Captain Mark Phillips won a Gold Medal in Munich in 1972 and a Silver Medal in Seoul in 1988 and her Mother, The Princess Royal, competed in the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal. Zara grew up with access to horses and training facilities and had parents, and grandparents, who appreciated and nurtured her sporting endeavours.
In each case it is also vital to remember that any Olympian also needs a deep-seated will to win and the dedication to practise for hours and hours in the long years that stretch between Olympic Games, headlines and medals. So, let’s applaud their hard work and talent.