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