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updated 8/1/2012 11:53:58 AM ET 2012-08-01T15:53:58

The London Olympics first doping scandal continues to grow as some sports scientist expressed doubts about the performance of 16-year-old Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen, who clocked a faster time in the water than the male world record holder at the same distance.

On Tuesday, Olympic officials said that Ye had passed her drug test.

"We would only comment if we had any adverse finding," International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams told Reuters on Tuesday. "I am not commenting, so you can draw your own conclusions."

Despite the test results, some sports scientists say Ye’s performance on Saturday in the 400-meter Individual Medley is suspicious.

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For one, she swam the final 50 meters of the freestyle leg in 28.93 seconds. That was faster Ryan Lochte, an American swimmer who won the men’s event. During the breaststroke leg, Ye had been trailing American Elizabeth Beisel before unleashing a devastating final kick that was faster than both Lochte and Michael Phelps, who finished fourth in the men’s medley. Her time on Saturday was also seven seconds faster than her own previous best time in the 400 IM last year.


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Athletes competing at elite levels are capable of a kick finish at the end of a grueling endurance race like the 400 IM, but to achieve her winning time, Dugas said Ye would have had to be holding back an enormous reserve of energy during the first 300 meters. She would also have had to maintain that reserve while keeping up with the leaders of the race.

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“The differences in the athletes at that level are very small,” Dugas said. “To suggest she was much slower and then sped up so much at the end, it goes against everything that we know about how athletes pace themselves at that level.”

The other bit of circumstantial evidence comes from the history of doping in the Chinese swimming program. Most occurred during the 1990s. But more recently, 16-year-old swimmer Li Zhesi, who broke a world record in the 400-meter individual medley at the 2009 World Games, tested positive for a banned hormone in March, according to Xinhua.

“If you put that together with her pacing and that she matched or had gone better than a male counterpart, the evidence stacks up against her,” Dugas said.

Chinese officials are furious, saying critics of Ye are being unfair and perhaps racist to an athlete who has won two gold medals this week (she won the gold in the 200 IM on Monday) through hard work and years of training.

Xu Qi, head of the Chinese swimming team, told the Xinhua news agency that Ye “has been seen as a genius since she was young, and her performance vindicates that.”

“If there are suspicions, then please lay them out using facts and data. Don't use your own suspicions to knock down others. This shows lack of respect for athletes and for Chinese swimming."

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What about the test that Ye passed? Another expert says there are ways to get around it by knowing in advance when the testing is done, by using masking agents that hide the presence of performance enhancing drugs, or by taking new substances for which sports authorities haven’t yet developed screening tests.

American sprinters Marion Jones won five track and field golds at the 2000 Sydney Olympics , passed all her tests, but later confessed in 2007 that she had been taking a previously unknown synthetic steroid.

“If you understand in detail exactly how the tests are done and you have a good enough chemist, there are ways to get around it,” said Thomas Brenna, professor of biomedical physiology at Cornell University. “But they are not easy and require a significant amount of sophistication.”

To catch cheaters, the World Anti-Doping Association conducts tests at the London Olympics that can pickup 240 different chemical compounds that are banned by international rules. Officials are also relying on an athlete’s “biological passport,” which monitors blood levels over time. It’s a way of checking whether the effects of a performance enhancing drug has had an effect in the body by increasing red blood cell counts, even if the substance itself can’t be detected.

The IOC is also keeping blood samples of Olympic athletes on ice for eight years to re-check them as screens for new drugs are developed. In 2009, these retroactive tests caught five Olympic medalists with the new blood-boosting drug CERA.

“Unfortunately, the negative test doesn’t mean a lot these days,” Dugan said. “People have beat the system plenty of times before.”

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