Sunday, August 17, 2008

Chinese swimming: Thumb's up, as long journey awaits

Boasting an Olympic gold and a new world record, teenager butterflyer Liu Zige smashed a prevailing pessimism that Chinese swimmers could hardly won a medal in their home pool.

After touching the wall first at women's 200 fly by shaving world record 1.22 second faster, the unknown Olympic rookie claimed her first Olympic title while teammate Jiao Liuyang, also an Olympic debutant, took the silver 0.54 second later in next lane.

"I have never thought about winning the race. I was happy enough for making the final and improving my personal best... But it was really beyond my expectation. I thought it was too amazing," the 19-year-old Liu said after the race, with a sweet smile on her face.

In addition to the teenager duo, long-distance freestyler Zhang Lin won a silver in 400m free, which made him the first Chinese man with a podium finish in swimming, and the women's relay teams clinched a silver and a bronze for 4x200m free and 4x100m medley respectively.

Sprinter Pang Jiaying also contributes with a bronze in women's 200m fly, which makes China stand 6th at the medal table.

"It is more like the first step on a long journey, good but primitive,"commented by China's head coach Zhang Yadong, stressing that his team still had a lot to improve.

Over the past decade, Chinese swimmers have struggled to regain their glory at world stage. Since its prime at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, when China won four golds, the squad had only managed just two golds in the following three Games -- one in 1996 and one in 2004.

"The moral within the team is reaching its historcal highest, and of course it's good to have Liu and Jiao break world record and win Olympic medals, but if looking at it in a rational way, you can see we still far lagged by the super powers such as the United States and Australia," Zhang said.

The United States has won 12 golds, 9 silvers and 10 bronzes at the Games, followed by Australia with 6 golds, 6 silvers and 8 bronzes.

Although Liu's success was popularly described as a fairy tale of "the ugly duckling", and the performance of the Chinese swimmers at Beijing Games is widely regarded as "surprising", solid evidences could be discovered to explain China's unexpected success at the swim meet.

Liu's coach Jin Wei never agrees his pupil was a dark horse. According to him, Liu was a promising star with huge potential, great endurance and assiduity. More importantly, she has been trained under the programs which he learned from swimming powerhouse Australia.

Last year, Jin brought his talented swimmer Liu to Australia for a two-month training, under the guidance of famed Australian coach Ken Wood who was the former tutor of world champion Schipper and breaststroke star Leisel Jones' initiator.

Thanks the advanced training regime, Liu has been speeding up on fast track by improving her personal best to two minutes and 7.76 seconds at the national Olympic trials this April.

The Australian background could also be traced upon Zhang Lin, who came to Australia at the end of last year and was mentored by Denis Cotterell, former coach of long distance king Hackett.

In months leading to the Games, Zhang broke the 400-meters freestyle national record twice and finally hit a new high score at the Olympic Games with a personal best of 3:42.44, only 0.58 second slower than gold medalist South Korean prodigy Park Tae-wan.

"The half-year training in Australia has changed me a lot, improved my performance a lot, and definitely, I will go back to Australia to continue my training," Zhang said in reply to a question of his whereabout after the Olympics.

Besides the foreign wisdom, the country has already reduced the number of its national swimmers from over 170 before the end of 2007 to the current less than 70, an initial step forward to shape a more scientific management on the training routine.

Technology also plays a vital role to boost the country's swimming capability, according to the source with the Chinese swimming team, as a specialist team covering fields such as sports medicine,sports bio-mechanics and psychology, along with medical staff always stand by to provide health care,traditional medicine, acupuncture and massage services for the swimmers to maintain form and recover from the tiredness and injury.

"A growing awareness of technology and a scientific involvement into the routine training remain will remain as a top priority in the post-Olympic period," said Jiang Yifan, a famous sports physician who leads the specialist team.

"My job will mainly focus on discover methods to enhance the swimmer's efficiency, intensity in training and competing capability during the match", Jiang told Xinhua.

Source: Xinhua

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