Pan's the man for surging Team China

Sprint sensation Pan Zhanle puts Olympic rivals on notice with stunning campaign at Doha world championships

By SUN XIAOCHEN | China Daily | Updated: 2024-02-20 09:36
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China's Pan Zhanle in action during the men's 100m freestyle semifinal at the World Aquatics Championships in Doha, Qatar, on Wednesday. Pan won four gold medals in Doha to emerge as one of the most exciting young talents in the international pool. REUTERS

Even with a glittering cast of star athletes skipping the meet, Team China's medal-laden campaign at the Doha swimming worlds served up a huge confidence boost for Paris 2024.

Five months out from the Games, the Chinese squad racked up seven gold medals and one world record at the first world championships to take place in the same year as the Olympics.

And while it wasn't yet the right time to peak, Chinese swimmers nonetheless threw down the gauntlet to their Olympic rivals in mightily impressive style.

Led by a crop of ambitious young swimmers, Team China stole the show at the Doha World Aquatics Championships — delayed a year due to the rescheduling of FINA events — by scooping impressive results in the absence of big-name swimmers from the United States and Australia, who opted to skip the meet to focus on their own pre-Olympic programs.

Sprint prodigy Pan Zhanle proved to be the biggest surprise in Doha after the 19-year-old broke the men's 100m freestyle world record with a time of 46.80 seconds in his leadoff leg of China's gold-winning 4x100m free relay on Feb 12. Four days later, the teen sensation claimed his first individual world championships gold, in the 100m free, having narrowly missed out on the podium twice in the same event with fourth-place finishes in 2022 and 2023.

Relatively unknown to the world before the Doha meet, Pan's meteoric rise, quietly launched at the 2022 worlds where his national record-tying swim (47.65) in the 100m semifinals was overshadowed by then world-record holder David Popovici's dominance, has propelled him into the international spotlight and fueled expectations that even better results could be on the way at this summer's Paris Olympics.

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