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Back in the fast lane

By SUN XIAOCHEN | China Daily | Updated: 2023-03-22 08:06
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Former backstroke world champion Fu Yuanhui is among a number of high-profile veterans to return to competitive action at this week's Asian Games trials in Qingdao, Shandong province. [Photo/Xinhua]

Enticed by home Asian Games, pool veterans make a splash again

Driven by the honor of competing at their home Asian Games, a group of veteran swimmers are making a big splash at China's domestic trials as they shake off the rust to embrace new challenges.

Beaming with vigor and kicking as hard as he could in the water, 36-year-old Wu Peng looked like his younger self again in the pool this week at China's spring national championships, where he returned from a 10-year retirement to try to qualify for this year's Asian Games in his home city of Hangzhou.

In Monday morning's 50m freestyle heat at the Qingdao meet, Wu reminded fans of the powerful start that once helped him beat the world. With age no longer on his side, he narrowly failed to make the final but his time of 23.81 seconds was enough to qualify for the second round of trials in May. He will also swim the heats of the 50m and 100m butterfly, his strongest stroke, on Wednesday and Thursday respectively.

Wu is well aware that making up for a 10-year absence from competition is a big ask, but he's not giving up on his dream just yet.

"To race again at the Asian Games, where my career took off, in the home pool motivated me to come back," said Wu, who as a 15-year-old won three gold medals at the 2002 Asiad in South Korea.

"It's a chance too appealing to pass by. I have always had this urge to come back since Hangzhou was named host. I really want to give it a try," added Wu, who retired in 2013 after winning his fourth world championship medal — a bronze in the 200m fly in Barcelona.

An exceptional butterfly specialist with world-class dolphin kick and stroke efficiency, Wu counts the legendary Michael Phelps among opponents he has outpaced.

Wu memorably beat the 23-time Olympic champion in April 2011 in the 200m fly final at the Michigan Grand Prix to end the superstar's nine-year, 60-race winning streak in that discipline. He followed up that feat with another win over the all-time great a month later at another US meet in Charlotte, North Carolina.

To get back in shape, Wu returned to the States last fall to start fitness and conditioning training in California, and tested his progress by racing the 100m fly at a Pro Swim Series meet in Knoxville, Tennessee in January.

"I lost about 6 or 7 kilograms in weight but it was clearly not enough," said Wu, who opened a junior swimming academy during retirement and serves as a guest TV commentator for major races.

"My result in 50m free was not as good as I expected, but fortunately, the time was good enough to qualify for the national championships. I have two more months to work on my stamina and endurance."

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