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Ye, 14, At The Double As China Women Leap

Oct 13, 2010  - Craig Lord

In the closing session at the Beijing round of the FINA short-course world cup, Ye Shiwen (CHN) secured a medley double after a 200m victory yesterday with a 4:28.67 by 0.25sec over world record holder (4:21.04 from the shiny suit era) Julia Smit (USA), with Zheng Rongrong (CHN) on 4:29.26. Ye was 2.08sec down on Smit going into freestyle but the winner of the 100m free earlier in the session managed to claw it all back on the way home as the American found herself in a Chinese pincer. The result: the first three efforts inside 4:30 this year. This is how the race unfolded:

  • Ye:    1:03.21; 2:12.43; 3:29.70; 4:28.67
  • Smit: 1:03.01; 2:10.94; 3:27.62; 4:28.92
  • Zheng: 1:01.36; 2:09.62; 3:28.20; 4:29.26

To assess the quality of those three swims, which would have ranked outside the top 10 in the shiny suit era, requires a look back beyond the start of 2008. Going into the shiny era, the top two times in Beijing would have been all-time Nos 2 and 3 behind the world mark of Yana Klochkova (UKR, 4:27.83, 2002), Zheng's effort would have been fifth best ever, 0.26sec outside the 4:29.00 in which Dai Guohong held the world mark in 1994 in the midst of a whirlwind career at the height of the China doping crisis.

Ye is just 14 and had a best time of 4:38.71, set in Queensland, Australia, in June this year.  Zheng, 19, had a best of 4:35.44, also clocked in June at the same meet in Australia, her best effort before that a 4:51.11 from 2006. Before the shiny era, Smit's best short-course effort dated back to 2006, on 4:35.64. The 400IM race also featured Cao Shiyue, who has just entered her teenage years and is capable of a 4:47.97

Ye claimed the 100m freestyle in 53.66 over Dorothea Brandt (GER), on 54.32. Ye is sometimes listed as Xie. We assume that the Xie Shiwen born in 1996 and on a 55.70 long-course 100m freestyle last October is the same swimmer. An unusual combination 100m free and 400IM. Zheng Rongrong featured in another final later in the session, finishing second to Elaine Breeden (USA) 2:05.33 to 2:06.08 in the 200m butterfly. 

An all-China 400m freestyle final also saw some home-nation leaping and bounding. Liu Jing took the race in 4:00.55 to Zhu Qianwei's 4:03.14, with Wang Xinyu third in 4:04.25. Liu entered the race as 6th best Chinese ever, on a 4:04.09 from February last year, and is now Chinese record holder ahead of the 4:02.13 standard that had been held by Pang Jiaying since 2004. Zhu's best had been a 4:08.11 from world s/c titles in Manchester in 2008, while the best of 19-year-old Wang stemmed back to when she was 15 and on a 4:13.11.

Not all things that look the same are, and China has made strides to right wrongs. Even so, any notable shift in sino-swim power has the world wondering and will do so for many years to come, so dreadful were the events of the 1990s. With Dubai 2010 world s/c titles around the corner, thoughts of Palma 1993 and the appearance of a a GDR-style female force from China are never too far away from the whisper on the deck. More time must pass and more things must change, say many, before Chinese progress is not accompanied by the raised eyebrow of a wary world.

Elsewhere at the Beijing meet:

Not quite the 55.61 world record he set in Berlin almost a year ago as the shiny suit era drew to a close but in 57.75, Cameron Van der Burgh, leading a South African contingent that landed in China from a trouble Commonwealth Games in Delhi, was able to keep all at bay in the 100m breaststroke on 57.75. Xie Zhi (CHN) was closest, on 58.48.

The men's 50m free had world record holder Roland Schoeman a head above a close-fought race for the minor spoils. In 21.47, the South African 'Blade' cut a strip off Steffen Deibler, on 21.76 for Germany, ahead of Lu Zhiwu (CHN), 21.82, Lyndon Ferms (RSA), 21.82, and Stefan Mystrand (SWE), on 21.83.

Among women, Gao Chang (CHN) clocked 57.45 a class apart in the 100m backstroke; in a 50m breaststroke final that only managed to muster six women, the race was won by Jennie Johansson (SWE), in 30.68; Sun Ye took the 200m breaststroke in 2:21.80; and Hinkelien Schreuder (NED) claimed the 100m medley in 59.80 ahead of Smit's 1:00.22.

Among men, Zhang Zibin, 17 and racing for a provincial team and not the national squad, won the 1,500m freestyle in 15:05.59; Darian Townsend (RSA) won the 200m freestyle by a wide margin over Chinese B teamers, on 1:44.27; Kohei Kawamoto (JPN) claimed the 100m butterfly in 50.78 ahead of 2000 Olympic champion Lars Frolander (SWE), on 51.61;  Peter Marshall (USA) claimed the 50m backstroke in 23.38; Thiago Pereira (BRA) added the 200m medley to the 400m medley win, with a 1:54.21 victory by just 0.05sec over Townsend; and Arkady Vyatchanin (RUS), 6sec-plus outside his shiny world record, won the 200m backstroke in 1:52.42 ahead of George Du Rand (RSA), on 1:53.04.

The closing 50m butterfly final saw Therese Alshammar (SWE) clock 25.48, with Ling Shuyuan (CHN) second on 26.06.

Next stop, Singapore at the weekend.