Ning makes a splash outside of the pool
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.