The head of the Chinese swim team has swung to the defence of China’s new 16-year-old sensation, Ye Shiwen, after her spectacular record-breaking performance in the 400m individual medley.
Ms Ye stunned the swimming world with a final freestyle lap time of 28.93 seconds, which was faster than that of Ryan Lochte in the corresponding men's event. The American clocked the second fastest time in history to win the gold medal.
But the performance raised as many doubts as it did plaudits, following the sordid history of drug use in womens’ swimming and particularly the Chinese womens’ swim team.
It directly follows Fairfax revealing the first inside accounts of how performance-enhancing drugs were administered by senior officials and doctors in the state sports system in the 1980s and 1990s, contradicting the official line that there was no such state-sponsored system.
The executive director of the USA Swimming Coaches Association, John Leonard, described Ye’s performance as “unbelievable”, “suspicious” and “disturbing”.
"The one thing I will say is that history in our sport will tell you that every time we see something, and I will put quotation marks around this, 'unbelievable', history shows us that it turns out later on there was doping involved,” Mr Leonard told the Guardian.
"But the final 100m was impossible.”
Chinese officials said it was “meaningless” to compare Ye’s final 100m - in which she was coming from behind - with that of Lochte, who was already comfortably in front at the same stage.
"Michael Phelps won eight gold medals at the Beijing Games, and American swimmer Missy Franklin is also incredible,” the swim chief, Xu Qi, told Xinhua news agency this morning.
“Why can't China have a talented swimmer?"
Ms Ye, who backs up on Tuesday (Wednesday morning, Sydney time) with the final of the 200m individual medley, told reporters "there is no doping” and that the Chinese team has always had a firm anti-doping policy.
China has taken large steps to clean up its state-dominated elite sports system, after the country's sporting reputation was severely tarnished by a series of doping busts in the 1990s.
"Michael Phelps won eight gold medals at the Beijing Games ... why can't China have a talented swimmer?"
“Members of the national team like me don’t have a clue what drugs we’re being given, regardless of whether they’re taken orally or by injection,” as one young Olympian told the author Sang Ye, for his book China Candid, back in 1995.“
”They’re always being changed; there are always new ‘vitamins’ to take.”
The Olympian, who declined to be named, described a Chinese sporting world which was routinely likened to military campaigns and in which athletes were micro-managed right down to their media interviews.
“During pre-travel induction, they issue a booklet containing all the questions foreigners are likely to ask, along with all the correct answers,” he told the author.
Rival athletes were stunned by Ye’s performance but stopped short of alleging drug use.
Stephanie Rice, the Australian who won gold in both women's medley events in Beijing in 2008, described Ye's performance as "insanely fast".