The almost immediate accusations of doping leveled at 16 year old Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen in the aftermath of her gold medal winning 200m individual medley swim and then her world record breaking 400m individual medley performance are cause for great concern, whether they are accurate or not.
If the accusations are accurate, then clearly it indicates that the World Anti-Doping Agency are failing to stop drug cheats in sport. If the accusations are incorrect, then it is a sad indictment on those same authorities that senior figures such as John Leonard, the executive director of the World Swimming Coaches Association, have such little confidence in their ability to identify drug cheats that they make unfounded allegations that are contrary to the drug test results. More importantly, it is deeply saddening that an athlete who won her event with hard work and talent has her achievements constantly questioned on the pages of newspapers the world over.
The vow to test every medal winner for performance enhancing drugs at this Olympics was supposed to bring confidence to spectators and those within the sport that drug cheats would be caught. To an extent, the authorities could argue they have succeeded, having already excluded Albanian weightlifter Hysen Pulaku, Saint Kitts and Nevis sprinter Tameka Williams, and Uzbek gymnast Luiza Galiulina for testing positive for performance enhancing drugs, at this games alone. At the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, eighteen athletes were caught in total. But the question will always remain: who didn't they catch?
It's a question which is certainly justified, given the fact that so many athletes are caught after the fact. Particularly in non-Olympic sports in the US, such as baseball and American football, the most successful steroid users have only been caught many years after their retirement. The United States Anti-Doping Agency only charged the now retired Lance Armstrong with the consumption of illicit performance enhancing drugs in June of this year. We will never know who is not caught, so suspicion will always exist as long as drug cheats are unearthed.
Funnily enough, the more people are caught, the more people will suspect athletes of drug use, given the fact that every case indicates that drug use is incredibly common in sport, and that element of doubt will always exist. Additionally, it seems unreasonable to expect drug testing authorities to catch all cheats by virtue of the fact that as the science of the authorities' testing mechanisms is advancing, so too is the science of those developing the drugs, and therefore their ability to make them unrecognisable to the tests.
The former chief of the World Anti-Doping Agency has lent credibility to these suspicions, stating that based on his own anecdotal evidence "maybe 10 per cent of athletes use drugs and we're catching one or two of them ... People who have prepared in advance and used drugs coming here (to London) won't get caught."
For some, this represents a strong argument for legalisation of performance enhancing drugs in sport. It would remove doubt over the achievements of athletes, it would place all athletes on a level playing field (rather than rewarding those who are the best at concealing their drug use), and it would lead to athletes visiting the best doctors to access the drugs rather than the doctors who are least likely to report them for cheating. It would certainly also lead to some amazing sporting displays.
That said, the integrity of sport would be denigrated massively should performance enhancing drugs become legal in competitions such as the Olympics. Would we be watching athletes or scientists compete for the gold medal?
An ideal world would definitely be one in which performance enhancing were banned and this ban is enforced. But while that continues to be unrealistic the athletes who achieve great success at competitions will sadly continually have their sporting feats clouded with doubt and skepticism.
James Penn is deputy head boy at Wanganui High School and was a member of the New Zealand team that competed in the World School Debating Championships.