SHENYANG, China, September 4. SUN Yang kept his hopes alive for a seven-gold medal performance at the Chinese National Games. Meanwhile, Xie Zhi and Lu Zhiwu turned in national records in their events. Additionally, Cao Yue burst onto the scene in a surprising women’s 400 free that produced three top 10 times.
The Chinese National Games are the ultimate event for swimmers in China, even eclipsing the Olympics when it comes to the level of prestige for an athlete in China with huge rewards on offer for not only the athletes, but also the provinces and teams in China.
Women’s 100 fly
Olympic silver medalist Lu Ying took home the gold medal in the event tonight with a 57.04 as she won by nearly half-a-second this evening against her training partner, and Asian record holder, Liu Zige. Lu’s time vaulted her to third in the world rankings behind only Sarah Sjostrom (56.53) and Alicia Coutts (56.97) from the World Championships in Barcelona. Lu had been seventh overall in the world with a 57.94 from Chinese Nationals earlier this year.
Liu, meanwhile, powered past her season best with a second-place time of 57.51 to give Shanghai a 1-2 finish in the event. That improved her top time of 57.79 from earlier this week that ranks her seventh overall, but was not enough to surpass Katerine Savard’s 57.31 from Worlds to move up the rankings.
Jiao Liuyang gave the Liberation Army team a bronze medal with a time of 58.04 to stand just outside the top 10 in the world, while Zhou Yilin of Hebei just missed the podium with a fourth-place time of 58.18.
Men’s 100 breast
The second Chinese national record of the meet fell as Xie Zhi put up a sizzling time in the men’s 100-meter breaststroke event.
Xie went out hard in 28.18 and had enough in the tank to power home with a 1:00.31 for the win. That performance lowered his own national record of 1:00.73 set at the 2009 edition of the Chinese National Games, and definitely excited the crowd with another national record up on the board. Wang Shun picked off the first mark on night one with a smoking time in the 400 IM. Xie previously made international headway in 2010 with a 50 breast gold medal in the Asian Games for his Yunnan squad.
Li Xiayan of the Liberation Army nearly joined Xie under the former Chinese national record with a swift 1:00.84 of his own. While China still has some time to make up to compete with the top levels in the sport, as a sub-1:00 is now required to be taken seriously internationally, the country is beginning to develop some depth in the stroke.
Mao Feilian rounded out the podium with a bronze-medal 1:01.07 for Zhejiang.
Women’s 400 free
Shanxi’s Cao Yue turned on the jets down the stretch to win the women’s middle distance freestyle event this evening.
Trailing Zhang Yuhan, 3:04.29 to 3:04.45, at the 300-meter mark, Cao blasted a 4:03.11 at the final touch to capture the gold medal. That performance skyrocketed the swimmer to fourth in the world rankings behind only Katie Ledecky (3:59.82), Melanie Costa Schmid (4:02.47) and Camille Muffat (4:02.64). She also gave Chen Qian’s national record of 4:02.35 a slight run, but will have to wait for another time to take a shot at that mark posted at the 2009 Chinese National Games.
Cao is an 18-year-old who has shown some remarkable improvement in the past year, having first made her way into the international scene with a 4:18.61 in the event at the Monte Carlo Mare Nostrum circuit last summer. Cao is definitely one of those surprising performers that tend to come out of this meet. The primary question is whether she will be able to do it on the big stage outside of China.
Liberation Army’s Zhang took second overall in 4:04.38 to jump to eighth in the world rankings, while Shandong national record holder Chen rounded out the top three with a 4:04.41 to grab ninth in the world rankings.
Men’s 400 free relay
With Lu Zhiwu leading off Zhejiang’s near-Chinese record relay effort with a national record in the 100 free, Sun Yang remained on form to win seven gold medals this week in Shenyang.
Lu opened up the finale with a blistering 48.33 time, breaking Ning Zetao’s Chinese record of 48.60 set at the Chinese Championships in April. Lu nearly moved into the top 10 in the world with that effort. Zhejiang’s Lu (48.33), Wang Shun (49.24), Lu Junyi (49.90) and Sun (48.14) closed out the win for Zhejiang in 3:15.61. That effort just missed the national record of 3:15.50 set by Shi Pengfei, Wang Chao, Zhang Lin and Chen Zuo at the 2009 Chinese National Games. The relay swim also nearly stood as the 10th best time of the year in the event.
Liberation Army’s Liu Wu (49.79), Li Yiguang (50.24), Qu Jingyu (50.53) and Ning (47.24) raced to second-place honors in 3:17.80, while Beijing’s Liu Zhaochen (50.27), Hou Mingda (49.80), Chen Zuo (49.56) and Shiteng Fei (48.87) wound up third overall in 3:18.50.
Men’s 200 free
Olympic gold medalist Sun Yang continued his quest for a seven-for-seven run at the Chinese Nationals Games. A night after capturing gold in the 400 free to being his journey at trying to sweep the 100, 200, 400, 1500 frees and three relay titles, Sun powered to the top of the heap in the 200 free semifinals.
In semifinal two, Sun pushed his way to a 1:48.09 to earn the top seed heading into finals. He has plenty more in the tank, considering he stands third in the world this year with a 1:44.99 from Chinese Nationals. Only Yannick Agnel (1:44.20) and Danila Izotov (1:44.87) have been faster this year.
His quest to win the 100 free seems to be the one part of his mission that is bothering locals the most. While most local media attention tends to fall in love with the world-record holder, he hasn’t drawn the best attention for his attempt at the 100 later in the meet. Local representatives have been quoted as saying if he won the 100 it would only reveal a serious lack of depth in the event for China, instead of Sun’s rising ability in the event.
Li Yunqi (1:48.76) and Xu Qiheng (1:48.98) finished second and third in the semifinal heats to bracket Sun in the finale.
Women’s 100 breast
Shanxi’s Zhao Jin led the way in the semifinal rounds with a top time of 1:08.24 from the second semifinal heat. She has a second to cut to break into the top 10 in the world rankings, but put herself in a good spot to win the overall title. Liu Xiaoyu posted a second-seeded time with a 1:08.40 for the Liaoning Province team, while Jiangsu’s Shi Jinglin won the first semifinal in 1:08.43 to qualify third heading into the finale. Zhejiang’s He Yuzhe picked up the fourth seed with a 1:08.68 as the top pack could produce a stellar battle in the finale.
Some more well-known names such as Ji Liping (1:09.59) and Fan Rong (1:09.69) missed finals altogether, while Olympic bronze medalist Sun Ye, a veteran with her medal coming by way of relay action at the 2008 Beijing Games, claimed the final transfer spot with an eighth-place 1:09.17.
Men’s 100 back
Xu Jiayu of Zhejiang topped qualifying in the semifinal heats with a time of 53.85, while Liaoning’s Cheng Feiyi turned in a 54.42 for second in the heats. Zhang Yu rounded out the top three to break 55 seconds with a 54.92. They all have some time to make up to break into the top 10 in the world this year as Ashley Delaney currently anchors that position with a 53.55 from Worlds in Barcelona.
Women’s 100 back
Fu Yuanhui blazed her way to fifth in the world in the event with a sizzling time in the first semifinal. Fu, who already stood sixth in the world with a 59.56 from Chinese Nationals earlier in the year, popped a 59.36 for Zhejiang to lead the way in semis. She moved to within striking distance of Zhao Jing’s Chinese record of 58.94 from the 2010 Asian Games.
Fu is typically a much stronger 50 backstroker, having won silver in the event at the World Championships in Barcelona. However, she’s finding her back-end speed to turn in a full 100. Hunan’s Liao Yali raced her way to the second seed in 1:00.39, while Zhao, representing Hubei, cruised to the third seed in 1:00.76.