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Mutual understanding the key to ending controversies at Olympics?

By Paul Giblin (Xinhua)

09:34, August 03, 2012

LONDON, Aug. 2 (Xinhua) -- Looking at the first five days of these Olympic Games, there is one story which has caused the most controversy: the success of Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen.

Ye's world record breaking swim in the final of the women's 400 meters medley saw questions raised about whether or not she had doped to achieve success. The question was raised by BBC broadcaster, Claire Balding (who while an excellent TV presenter is not a swimming expert) just after her race and picked up by US coach John Leonard and it didn't take long for a storm to rise above the head of the 16-year-old girl, who had looked like a rabbit in the headlights in her first press conference, but showed character to put up a strong defense of her displays after winning the 200 meters medley in a conference which attracted massive coverage from the press gathered here in London.

The doping controversy appears to have died down in the past two days as former swimmers have spoken out to defend Ye, while anti-doping authorities have also stressed she has complied totally with requirements.

But the press have got a sniff of a story and that is the tough training regime of Chinese athletes, especially with children with the focus switching from allegations of drug cheating to child cruelty.

Lets be honest photos exist of very young Chinese children crying while being put through rigorous gymnastics training and they are pleasant to look at, although it is hard to tell how representative they are of an entire system, these are the ones that are, of course, published.

Ye admits she was discovered at a young age and to me this highlights the difference between Chinese athletes and the West. In Europe, American Australia etc, youngsters may go to training camps for short periods during school holidays, they generally live at home. A child that was a talented swimmer will be driven to the pool in the morning by their parents, then go to school and maybe have another evening session.

Recently the BBC interviews young swimmers at the same pool where 800 meters world record holder, Rebecca Adlington began, one boy said he trained for a total of 9 hours spread over 6 days of the week, which he had to fit in around his education. That's pretty normal for us and I suspect most Europeans, Australians and Americans feel the same.

Therefore the idea that someone who is 7 or 8 years old would move away from their families and dedicate the greater part of the day to working at a sport is hard to understand, while maybe someone from China finds it hard to understand why a talented youngster risks wasting their talent by not developing it to the full.

It's probably worth taking a look at economic factors: if someone in the UK or France or the US fails to progress into the elite, (ie the majority of us), there are many other options for the future, maybe for someone from rural China, and I write this with respect, those options are likely to be more limited: If you are in that situation and your child is offered the chance to work for greatness, to become a national hero or heroine, you will not turn it down. And when you get the chance of a lifetime, you give everything to ensure you take it.

In the past China was a mystery to the West: when I close my eyes and try to imagine it, I think of mist rising slowly over rivers, junks floating slowly downstream, forested hillsides, traditional Chinese music playing in the background and a drawn curtain. Despite China's phenomenal growth, it still remains a mystery to most Westerners and mystery provokes mistrust.

Human nature to mistrust what you do not know and therefore don't understand and when a country you mistrust begins to produce magnificent results, it gets questioned. Those questions may be fair or unfair, but fundamentally they arise because we cannot understand a different way of thinking.

It should be said that some of the Chinese swimmers who have worked in Australia have said they enjoyed the experience, commenting that their Australian compatriots seemed to enjoy life a bit more. The lesson then is that maybe we should try (and be helped) to understand China, but that China can also learn from elsewhere.


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