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Swimmers show depth of their friendship

By SHI FUTIAN in Hangzhou | China Daily | Updated: 2023-09-29 07:30
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Zhang Yufei

Pool stars exchange compliments, gifts and good wishes at Asian Games

Apart from chasing medals and glory, another wish of Chinese Olympic and world champion Zhang Yufei at the Asian Games is to send a gift to Japanese swimming star Rikako Ikee, and to establish a deeper bond between two of female swimming's Asian powerhouses.

"I hope Rikako Ikee enjoys her trip to the Hangzhou Asian Games in China. I told her before that I will 'see you next year (in Paris)'. I hope she will enjoy swimming in Hangzhou, and also enjoy the atmosphere of the host city," said Zhang after winning the women's 100m butterfly in new record time for the Asiad — 55.86s — on Wednesday.

"I wish to send her a gift that represents the traditions and customs of China, and which she will like. I really can't make up my mind and I hope maybe the public can help me to choose one."

Ikee knows what kind of gift she would like, saying on Wednesday: "Pandas! I would like to take some cute panda souvenirs as gifts back to Japan."

Competing against Zhang in the women's 100m butterfly, Ikee wasn't at her best on Wednesday, finishing in fifth place with a time of 58.98s.

"In the morning, I felt that I was not in peak condition, so my goal was just to reach 58s. It's still not the right time for me to have too high an expectation, so I don't have ideal results, but I have tried my best," said Ikee.

"When I was in the second 50 meters, I could hear the loud cheering from the stands. I know that sound was not all for me, but I found it encouraging."

And the Japanese star is impressed by Zhang's performance at the Games, adding that: "She has ridden the momentum since day one, breaking the Asian Games record, too. I wish I could ask her how she can swim so fast."

Ikee was the brightest star in pool at the 2018 Jakarta Asian Games. As an 18-year-old back then, she was named MVP for bagging six gold medals. However in 2019, Ikee was diagnosed with leukemia. It has not been easy for the star to return to the pool, and she has struggled to reach her peak.

So, when Ikee stood on the podium in Hangzhou for winning silver in the women's 4x100m freestyle relay on Sunday, the Japanese star received a warm reception from the crowd.

"On the first day of the Asian Games, I knew that I couldn't compete at my former level, but that it would be great as along as I could improve a little bit day by day. As I'm here already, I want to seize the chance and feel the atmosphere of the Games," said Ikee.

And speaking of her future goals, Ikee added, "I swam like I had nothing to lose. My training has been focused on my performance in the 50m event. I could not practice enough for 100m. I will prepare better for my 100m swim at Paris 2024. I want to take advantage of the next six months as much as possible and train to be effective."

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