Ning makes a splash out­side of the pool

China Daily (Canada) - - XI’S VISIT - By SUN XIAOCHEN sunx­i­aochen@ chi­nadaily.com.cn

Swim­ming sen­sa­tion Ning Ze­tao might be a star in the pool, but he is strug­gling to cope with his new-found fame out of the wa­ter.

The 22-year-old cap­tured the hearts of a na­tion when he won the 100m freestyle gold at the­World Swim­ming Cham­pi­onships in Kazan, Rus­sia, in Au­gust.

Since then, Ning has be­come a house­hold name with a grow­ing list of en­dorse­ments.

“I’ve re­ceived a lot more at­ten­tion and the ex­pec­ta­tion from the pub­lic is prob­a­bly too much at the mo­ment,” he said at an en­dorse­ment sign­ing cer­e­mony with In­ter­net por­talNetEase Inc.

Ning be­came the first Asian swim­mer to win the 100m freestyle ti­tle with a time of 47.84 sec­onds. Af­ter claim­ing gold in Kazan, his pop­u­lar­ity soared, with fans clam­or­ing for his au­to­graph out­side his Shang­hai train­ing base.

On­line fe­male ad­mir­ers even su­per­im­posed his por­trait on their own self­ies and posted them on the In­ter­net, hint­ing they were Ning’s girl­friends.

Many urged him to cash in on his good looks by mov­ing into the en­ter­tain­ment busi­ness. This fol­lowed his de­ci­sion to turn down an in­vi­ta­tion to sing at China Cen­tral Tele­vi­sion’s Spring Fes­ti­val Gala in Fe­bru­ary.

De­spite all the adu­la­tion, Ning clearly knows where his fu­ture lies, as his goal is to win a medal at the Olympic Games in Rio, Brazil, next year.

“The gold medal in Kazan has boosted my con­fi­dence, but Iwasjust lucky towinit as I didn’t ex­pect to do it,” he said. “Now I’m fully fo­cused on­prepar­ing for theO­lympics in Rio.

“I have to prove that I’m more than a one-night won­der by at least win­ning a medal in Brazil, so I am ready to train even harder,” he said.

Ning, who comes from He­nan, first shot to fame af­ter win­ning the 50m and 100m freestyle ti­tles at the In­cheon Asian Games last year. Af­ter that, he be­came the dar­ling of

I have to prove that I’m more than a one-night won­der ... so I am ready to train even harder.”

spon­sors, as well as the me­dia, fol­low­ing in the well-trod foot­prints of Olympic cham­pion Sun Yang.

Man­aged by the Chi­nese Swim­ming Ad­min­is­tra­tive Cen­ter, Ning needs ap­proval be­fore he can ac­cept com­mer­cial en­dorse­ments. The CSAC has a de­mand­ing train­ing rou­tine and Ning has very lit­tle spare time for so­cial events.

But that does not bother him as he is com­mit­ted to win­ning an Olympic medal. “I’m very happy that the swim­ming cen­ter takes care of all my as­sign­ments. That means I can con­cen­trate on train­ing and com­pet­ing.”

The coun­try has been look­ing for a new sport­ing icon fol­low­ing the retirement of former NBA cen­ter Yao Ming, ten­nis Grand Slam win­ner Li Na and Olympic cham­pion hur­dler Li­uXiang. Ning ap­pears to fit the bill.

Yet, at times, he feels flat­tered be­ing men­tioned along­side those big names.

“I am just an or­di­nary swim­mer, who hasn’t been tested on the high­est stage. Fin­ish­ing on the podium at the Olympics has al­ways been my dream ... it drives me for­ward,” he said.

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