China ignore suspicions, swim to all-time high
LONDON - China celebrated the most successful Olympic swimming campaign in their history but the Asian giants still had to confront suspicions that their success was not simply down to hard work and talent.
Riding on the back of youngsters Sun Yang and Ye Shiwen, China shouldered aside one-time powers Australia to emerge as the United States' main rivals with five gold medals.
China's performances in London underlined the giant strides in the sport by the world's populous nation after winning one gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Games to Australia's six.
Sun, 20, brought the Aquatics Centre crowd roaring to their feet as he shattered his own world record in racing away with the 1500m freestyle, once Australia's domain, on the final night of the competition.
Sun, ironically trained in Australia by Grant Hackett's former mentor Denis Cotterell, finished with two gold medals after he earlier became the first Chinese man to win an Olympic swimming title with his 400m freestyle victory.
Sixteen-year-old Ye turned in one of the most spectacular swims of the eight-day meet with an astonishing world record in the 400m medley.
Ye obliterated the 400m medley world record with a sensational last freestyle lap blowing away American world champion Elizabeth Beisel with a final 50m burst faster than American men's world champion Ryan Lochte's victory in the 400m medley a few events before.
Ye went on to claim the medley double as Australia's queen Stephanie Rice faltered in the defence of her three Beijing golds.
A long shadow continues to be cast by the drug scandals which dogged Chinese swimming throughout the 1990s, however, and it was inevitable that the legitimacy of Ye's remarkable performances would be questioned by some.
John Leonard, executive director of the World Swimming Coaches' Association, raised suspicions about the authenticity of her swims, but Ye said there was nothing untoward.
"There is no problem with doping, the Chinese team has a firm policy so there is no problem with that," she said.
Swimming's world governing body FINA said there was "no factual basis" for speculation that Ye's Olympic medley double had been fuelled by banned drugs.
FINA said she had been tested four times in the last 12 months, including twice before this year's Chinese Olympic trials.
The Chinese took umbrage at the claims of illegalities and blasted Western media for raising doping suspicions against Ye, while Sun was aggrieved at the constant sniping of China's performances.
"People think China has so many gold medals because of doping and other substances, but I can tell you it is because of hard work," he said.
"It is all down to training and hard work that we have results."
Jiao Liuyang went one better than her Beijing silver medal to claim the women's 200m butterfly final for China's fifth gold at the meet.
But while China were jubilant, there was only gloom in the Australian camp after they finished with a lone gold, six silver and three bronze medals for their lowest overall return since the 1992 Barcelona Games.
Australia's women provided the lone gold in the 4x100m freestyle relay on the opening night with no lustre added in the ensuing seven days of competition.
London will be ruefully remembered by Australians as the first Olympics since 1976 where the country failed to have an individual swimming gold medallist.
Much of the disappointment centred around world champion James Magnussen and the highly-rated men's sprint relay team, which failed to get a medal in the 4x100m freestle relay, an event they were favoured to win.
Nothing more encapsulates the Australian team's struggles than Magnussen missing out on gold as the lead-off swimmer in the freestyle relay team and in his prime 100m freestyle event.
The brash-talking 21-year-old led into the last 25m of the 100m freestyle but American Nathan Adrian fought back and tipped him out of the gold medal by one-hundredth of a second in 47.52sec.
Magnussen swam his fastest 100m of the Games, 47.53sec, but it was almost half a second slower than his winning time of 47.10sec at the Australian Olympic trials last March.
The Australian team never recovered from the hammer blow of that defeat and a run of six silver and three bronze medals just added to their frustrations.
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