Pool per­fec­tion­ists primed for glory

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SPORTS - By CHINA DAILY

If the form book can be trusted, China’s aquat­ics aces look primed to clean up at the 2017 FINA World Cham­pi­onships, which open on Fri­day and run through July 30 in Bu­dapest, Hun­gary.

The coun­try’s swim­mers, divers and wa­ter polo play­ers have tar­geted a to­tal of 15 gold medals at the com­pe­ti­tion.

China’s swim­mers hope to ac­count for five of those, with three-time Olympic cham­pion Sun Yang, men’s back­stroke spe­cial­ist Xu Ji­ayu and women’s back­stroke sprinter Fu Yuan­hui lead­ing the charge.

Sun, who is now train­ing in­di­vid­u­ally in Hong Kong, clocked the best marks in the world this year in the 200m and 400m freestyle at the na­tional cham­pi­onships in April, while Xu, who took sil­ver in the 100m back­stroke at the 2016 Rio Olympics, was a mere 0.01 sec out­side the record when he posted a world-lead­ing time of 51.86 sec­onds in the same event at the na­tion­als.

Amer­i­can vet­eran Matt Gre­vers and his com­pa­triot and fel­low Rio Olympic gold medal­ist Ryan Mur­phy pose the big­gest threats to Xu, but the 21-year-old said: “Rather than com­pet­ing against oth­ers to win a gold medal, I would like to try harder to per­form to my ut­most with break­ing the cur­rent world record as my goal.”

Reign­ing men’s 100m freestyle world cham­pion Ning Ze­tao failed to qual­ify for the team as his con­tin­ues to try to re­cover from a slump that be­gan in Rio.

On the women’s side, Olympic 100m back­stroke bronze medal­ist Fu looks set to re­tain her world ti­tle over 50m after record­ing a world-lead­ing 27.36 sec­onds at the na­tional tri­als.

Since the 2009 worlds in Rome, Chi­nese swim­mers have claimed five golds at each of the bi­en­nial cham­pi­onships and ex­pect to at least match that out­come in Bu­dapest, ac­cord­ing to team of­fi­cials.

Mean­while, China’s all-con­quer­ing div­ing “dream team” has set its sights on bag­ging 10 out of the 13 golds up for grabs, which would match its haul at the 2015 worlds in Kazan, Rus­sia.

Still, team leader Zhou Ji­hong has warned his charges lack ex­pe­ri­ence fol­low­ing a raft of re­tire­ments after the Rio Games.

“Tech­ni­cally, we are good, con­sid­er­ing our per­for­mances in train­ing and the dif­fi­cul­ties of the rou­tines. But with such a young team it’s kind of rea­son­able if some of them make mis­takes at such a big event,” said Zhou.

Olympic cham­pi­ons Wu Minxia, Chen Ruolin and Qin Kai all brought the cur­tain down on their ca­reers last Au­gust in Brazil, and the team is now led by reign­ing Olympics syn­chro and in­di­vid­ual spring­board cham­pion Shi Ting­mao, 16-year-old Chen Qian, who won the 10m plat­form in Rio, and men’s plat­form spe­cial­ist Chen Aisen.

Shi Fu­tian and Sun Xiaochen con­trib­uted to the story.

TAO XIYI / XIN­HUA

Olympic div­ing cham­pion Shi Ting­mao will lead a young con­tin­gent as China looks to main­tain its dom­i­nance of the sport in Hun­gary.

TAO XIYI / XIN­HUA

China women’s wa­ter polo team, which has im­proved dra­mat­i­cally in re­cent years, hopes to con­tinue to close the gap on the world’s best.

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