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Smashing records on the fly

By LI YINGXUE in Hangzhou | China Daily | Updated: 2023-09-26 09:38
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Team China Olympic swimming champion Zhang Yufei gets off to a flier, shaving seconds off leading Asian times and bagging her first two golds

Chinese Olympic champion Zhang Yufei (right) won the women's 200m butterfly title at the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou, posting a new Games record in the process. Wei Xiaohao / China Daily

Just a month ago, China's Olympic swimming champion Zhang Yufei acquired a new cabinet for her home to showcase her medals and trophies. She said it may soon get too full, as she added nine gold medals from the recent Chengdu FISU World University Games.

After the Hangzhou Asian Games, she might have to order a bigger one.

On the opening day of the swimming competition, Zhang dominated the women's 200m butterfly and contributed to her team's victory in the women's 4x100m freestyle relay at the Hangzhou Olympic Sports Centre Aquatic Sports Arena on Sunday evening, adding two more golds to her collection.

With an impressive time of 3:33.96, Zhang, together with her teammates, shattered the previous record set by the Japanese team in the previous Asian Games by nearly 3 seconds. She also established a new Asian Games record in the women's 200m butterfly, posting a time of 2:05.57, on her way to the gold.

China swept all seven gold medals in the evening's swimming competition.

Zhang said that at the last Asian Games, the Chinese team wasn't as strong as it is now. "This time, we're a different squad. We're looking at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, and the Los Angeles 2028 Olympic Games, even the events after that. This will give us great confidence," she said.

As for her personal goal for the Hangzhou Asiad, she said it is to collect all seven gold medals in the event she participates in. "I feel confident about it. Let's take it one step at a time," she said.

Before the Asian Games started, Zhang stated that her target is to be named the MVP at the Asian Games.

Winning the women's 200m butterfly was a good start for Zhang on her bid for the title.

Zhang revealed that, since she was a child, the 200m butterfly has always been the event she feared the most.

"Also, at this Asian Games, the women's 200 meter butterfly is the first swimming event to yield a gold medal, which put a lot of pressure on me to compete," Zhang said.

For the 100m and 50m butterfly, she is more confident of getting the win, and for the 50m freestyle, she has two strong competitors — her China teammate Cheng Yujie and Siobhan Haughey for Hong Kong, China — and the result will depend on their performances, as much as her own.

Despite being just 25 years old, Zhang stood as the most senior contender in the 200m butterfly final. She noted that, as time has passed, she has witnessed significant growth in her mental resilience and maturity, compared to her earlier years in the sport.

Zhang's performance also inspired other athletes at the Hangzhou Games. Japanese swimmer Satomi Suzuki won the silver medal in the women's 50m breaststroke, afterward citing Zhang's breaking of the Asian Games record in the 200m butterfly as her motivation.

"I think she was the reason I won the medal. I wanted to match her performance," Suzuki said.

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