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Ye Shows How Swimming Pays In China

Sep 22, 2012  - Craig Lord

After the vast sums paid to Sun Yang for his success at the London 2012 Games comes news out of China of another vast bounty for a swimmer: Ye Shiwen, the 16-year-old schoolgirl who controversially swam the the last 100m of the 400m medley on her way to a dominant world-record victory as fast as half the men's final and on average 3sec swifter than the next-best women in the world, has received more than a quarter of a million euros from state and provincial authorities, and a luxury flat overlooking the ocean.

Ye, who started swimming at 6 at the same Chen Jing Lun sports school attended by Sun as a boy, took the 200m and 400m medley finals in London by storm. She won both races by producing a freestyle leg that made her the first Olympic champion in the pool among women since the fairer sex joined the party in 1912 to succeed by travelling at the speed of her male counterparts.

The way in which she destroyed the likes of Elizabeth Beisel, the American world champion whose silver-medal winning time almost 3sec away marked the second best ever seen in a textile suit beyond the anomaly ahead of her, sparked controversy. Ye was able to swim the last 100m of a world-record 400m medley race in a time she had never managed coming home in a 200m freestyle race. She did so by eight-plus-beat kicking out of her turn into freestyle, overhauling Beisel with a blistering first 25m on the stroke and then leaving the American looking like she had was treading water. 

Against the backdrop of a nation with a horrible history of abuse among athletes (the majority of 43 steroid positives in the 1990s were women aged 14 to 17) and authorities set on containing a sizeable problem, Ye was bound to draw more than applause for her performances. 

The arguments were old and well-known, including ludicrous accusations of racism, favoured by Zhou Ming and other criminals when denying their misdeeds and now used by others in defence of their view that Ye has a right not to be tainted pointed to the absence of any positive test. Those who lived through scandal after scandal in the days of the GDR and China in the 1990s note the vast list of Olympic winners who never tested positive in official tests but most certainly did thrive on doping, as the record shows. 

With some it was a case of confession - Marion Jones, not a positive in sight, myriad tests taken and passed without a problem even when she was as high as a kite - in other cases, state documents showed the doses administered to what amounted, in many cases, to champions who were also abuse victims - the dosages against the names of GDR swimmers have been well-documented - with others it was guilt by association, impossible to think that a single swimmer handled by the likes of Zhou Ming in the 1990s had made it to international waters on their own steam.

Six weeks before the Games, a 16-year-old former team-mate of Ye's, Li Zhesi, tested positive for erythropoeitin (EPO), the blood-booster. The case was announced by the China Anti-Doping Agency (Chinada), which cited "an out-of-competition test carried out on March 31". Xinhua confirmed the case. No suspension has yet been announced, while the case has still not appeared on the list of doping cases published regularly by FINA, the international federation.

In London, FINA confirmed that knew nothing about the Li case, one widely reported in China. But for the ban, Li would have been at the Games, She turned 13 the day before her home Games got under way in Beijing in 2008. A year later, at 14, she became a world champion as a member of the China women's 4x100 metres medley quartet.

Ye's story has travelled in the opposite direction. At home, she is a hero. If the state gave her the equivalent of 60,000 euros, her home home province of Zhejiang pumped up the volume with a 220,000 euros pay day, while a property company of Hangzhou, south of Shanghai, gave Ye a luxury apartment with sea views, the Chinese media has reported. All fitting for a swimmer who was effectively lost to her family from 6, enrolled at the Chen Jing Lun school, where a billboard in the entrance hall boasts the motto: "Students today, Olympic stars tomorrow."

So it was for another pupil of the school, Sun. The first Chinese male swimmer to win an Olympic gold in the pool with victory in world-record time over 1500m freestyle, he is said to have attracted $18 million in endorsement funds. The bulk of that comes from the US: Coca-Cola, a company that has never paid those kind of sums, if they be true, to an American swimmer, unless they can tell me otherwise.

Sun's contract with the Chinese Swimming Federation requires him to hand a third of his earnings to the rest of the Olympic swimming team, meaning that each member of the squad would get about $150,000 if the money is shared evenly. If that is the case, then Ye's pure money prizes from the Games, will have topped half a million dollars. 

Not a bad pay day. Certainly a great incentive in China for any working to hone talent for international sport in the hope of financial rewards beyond the wildest dreams of the vast majority in China (and elsewhere for that matter).

According to Xinhua, Sun's training in Australia has cost the Chinese government $1.57 million. If some of that went to Denis Cotterrell, the Australian coach is rumoured to have been paid a quarter of a million dollar bonus for Sun's success. Good for Cotterell. Not, perhaps, so good for Australian swimming, some - including Don Talbot - have pointed out.

"What the Chinese offered me for a month, I could live on for a year," Cotterell is reported to have said. His Chinese charges have cited him often as the reason for their success, though many spend the bulk of their time back in China.