Chinese Women Post World-Leading Times at Nationals in Huangzhou

HUANGZHOU, China. April 17. CHINA's national championship and World Championships selection meet ended Sunday, after the country's female swimmers turned in their best performance in over three years.

The highlight of the meet, as swiminfo reported yesterday, was Qi Hui's world record of 2:22.99 in the 200m breast. Her time bettered the global standard of 2:23.64 set by South Africa's Penny Heyns in August, 1999 at the Pan Pacific Championships in Sydney.

Qi split 33.37 at the 50, 1:10.00 at the 100, and 1:46.64 at the 150 before touching in 2:22.99.

Qi's record was the first by a Chinese swimmer since October 1997, when Wu Yanyan set the still-standing mark of 2:09.72 in the 200 IM and Chen Yan went 4:34.79 in the 400 IM at the Chinese Cty Games in Shanghai. Sadly, Wu's record remains on the books, though Wu, herself, has been banned for four years after testing positive for steroids. Chen's record was broken by Ukraine's Yana Klochkova (4:33.59) at the 2000 Olympics.

The 16-year old Qi, who represents the Chinese Navy team and finished fourth in the event at last year's Sydney Olympics (2:25.36), one-hundredth of a second behind Amanda Beard, set the record Friday night.

Qi also set a short course world mark of 2:19.25 for the event at the World Cup meet in Paris in January.

The teenager also won the 200 meter medley at the four-day meet in a time of 2:13.62, which would have been good enough for fifth place in the Sydney Games.

Luo Xuejuan, another 16 year-old, won the 100 meter breaststroke in 1:07.85, a national record and the world's fastest time this year.

Luo was involved in an incident at the World Cup meet in Melbourne last December, where she refused to be drug-tested, locking herself in the women's bathroom until meet officials agreed not to test her. Luo's bizarre action came only a day after she was quoted in a Melbourne newspaper as saying she wanted to lead the fight against drugs in her country.

Another outstanding performance was turned in by Yang Yu, who won the 200 meter freestyle in a time of 1:59.18 and the 400 meter freestyle in 4:12.40.

Xu Yanwei became the first Chinese woman since Shan Ying almost four years ago to break the 55 second barrier in the 100 meter freestyle, clocking 54.68 seconds. That time ranks her first in the world.

Chinese women dominated the world rankings in 1997, mainly off their results in Shanghai in October. There were far fewer Chinese in the rankings the following year, following the drug busts at the World Championships in Perth. In 1999, just five Chinese women remianed ranked in the world top 10, but by last year, they had disappeared completely from the global rankings.

Chinese officials have announced they are cracking down on drugs and, indeed, several swimmers, including Wu Yanyan, have been banned as a result. But the actions of Luo Xuejuan in Melbourne, and the fact that national team coach Zhou Ming is still coaching after, with great fanfare, Chinese officials announced he was "banned" from coaching for eight years, cast considerable doubt on the authenticity of the Chinese crackdown.

Though the just-ended national championships also served as a selection meet for the World Championships in Fukuoka, Japan, in July, Chinese officials did not announce which swimmers would be competing in Japan.
The nationals also served as a qualifying meet for China's National Games, to be held in November.

–Phillip Whitten
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