Do you remember the last games, in Beijing? One of the South African athletes did very well. She was particularly tall, strong. She went on to become world champion the year after, but by the time she competed people were already saying that she was, in fact, a man. The poor woman therefore competed with these untrue rumours swirling round for over a year, until they were really taken seriously, and she was stopped from competing while she underwent medical tests to prove she was, in fact, a woman. She was. Didn't hear much about that result. She suddenly became less interesting, but has been humiliated beyond most of our imagination. Could no-one just accept that she was a particularly strong athlete? Plenty of women are a little masculine in appearance, but no-one subjects them to public humiliation. Caster Semenya, however, was a surprise winner, and therefore suspect.
There are plenty of snide comments made in France about other successful athletes. Usain Bolt when he first came to prominence. Prominence outside the athletics world, that is. Is someone not able to be just a good athlete? Is no-one innocent until proven guilty? And trust me when I say that world class athletes are rigourously tested for drugs. They have to be. So we should assume that those competing are clean.
Spanish sport in particular has been criticised by the French, and this was reflected in an episode of the Guignols - a Spitting Image type satirical news show - in which several puppets representing Spanish sports stars were taking drugs. It was a joke, yes, but satire often reflects and exaggerates a widely held opinion. It's what makes it funny. Well, Spain, understandably, wasn't amused. You can't tar the whole country's sporting population with the dodgy test results of one cyclist.
So, 2012. And we have a Chinese swimmer doing extremely well. And because of a few slanted articles in the press I have heard from three separate people that she is taking banned substances. They have stated this as fact, saying it is impossible that she could just be, well, a very good swimmer. Her most vocal critic is an American, the head of the World Swimming Coaches Association. I wonder why he can't just call her a superstar, which is how everyone referred to Michael Phelps when he won zillions of gold medals. Why can't people just stay quiet until something is proven. There is absolutely no evidence - zero evidence - that she has cheated in any way at all. Without knowing anything at all about the subject I reckon that a 15 year old champion swimmer will make progress by the time she is 16. The body is still growing, getting stronger, and psychologically the competitor will be stronger. I think her only crime, in fact, like Caster Semenya, was winning. And (whispers) not being American.
Can you imagine being an athlete, working so hard to get to the top of your sport, and people automatically assuming you are cheating? It must be pretty soul destroying. Yes, there have been cases where suspicions have proved to be correct. That is why all medallists spend so much time peeing into plastic cups and waiting for test results. And when these tests come back clear, as Ye Shiwen's have done, the damage is already done. There are plenty of people who will always assume that she won because of drugs. Because plenty of people are that cynical, and like to think the worst of people. People don't want to think that