SHENYANG, China, September 9. THERE were plenty of close calls and swift swims during the sixth night of action at the Chinese National Games.
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 200 breast
Jiangsu’s Shi Jinglin cracked the top 10 in the world in the distance breaststroke as she smoked the field down the final 100-meters.
Shi, leading the pack by .12 at the 100-meter mark with a 1:11.00, powered home to win the finale by more than two seconds with a 2:24.57 this evening. That effort moved her into the top 10 in the world, besting Canada’s Martha McCabe for the 10th spot. McCabe came into tonight as the 10th-fastest swimmer in the world with a 2:24.68 from Worlds in Barcelona, but Shi managed to clip that time. Japan’s Mio Motegi still stands ninth with a 2:24.55 from the Japan Open.
Shanxi’s Zhao Jin overtook much of the field in the final 50 meters to surge to silver with a time of 2:26.66. She turned fifth at the 150, but kicked on the afterburners to beat the rest of the field to second-place honors. Shaanxi’s He Yun rounded out the podium with a third-place 2:27.54.
Men’s 200 back
Zhejiang’s Xu Jiayu upended national-record holder Zhang Fenglin of Shandong in the distance dorsal by nearly a second in a bit of a surprising outcome this evening.
Xu crushed Zhang down the final 50 meters, having trailed the record holder 1:26.43 to 1:26.93 at the 150-meter mark. Xu finished nearly a second ahead with a 1:56.67 for the win, just missing his ninth-ranked time of 1:56.42 from Worlds in Barcelona earlier this summer.
Zhang, who owned the Chinese record with a 1:55.59 from the 2012 London Olympics, wound up earning second-place honors with a time of 1:57.62 after he couldn’t hold off the hard-charging Xu down the stretch. But, he had plenty in the tank to withstand a charge by Liaoning’s Cheng Feiyi, who earned bronze in 1:58.48. Cheng closed hard, having trailed Zhang 1:26.43 to 1:29.07 at the 150-meter mark, but ran out of room.
Men’s 200 IM
It wasn’t as fast as his national record 1:56.86 from Worlds in Barcelona this summer, but Zhejiang’s Wang Shun didn’t need that type of speed to win tonight in the men’s 200 IM.
Wang dropped a 1:57.71 to capture the gold medal, along with an IM sweep after dusting the Chinese record in the 400 IM with a 4:09.10 earlier in the week. Along with his victory in the 800 free relay earlier this week, Wang is having a tremendous meet thus far.
Yang Zhixian picked up silver for Hunan with a time of 1:58.62, while Zhejiang’s Mao Feilian took third in 1:59.78 to comprise the sub-2:00 efforts during the finale. Mao is a breaststroke specialist, who owns the national record in the 200-meter breaststroke with a 2:10.25.
Women’s 100 free
Shanghai dominated the sprint freestyle finale with a podium sweep as training partners went 1-2-3 in the event this evening.
Chen Xinyi touched out Tang Yi by a fingernail, 53.84 to 53.87, for the final gold medal, while teammate Pang Jiaying snared third-place honors with a time of 54.04.
The times nearly helped China break into the top 10 in the world, currently anchored by Shannon Vreeland with a 53.83 from U.S. Nationals this summer. Although not quite on the world-title contention stage, the Chinese are beginning to develop some depth in the event and could soon rival Pang’s Asian record of 53.13 from the techsuit era during the 2009 National Games in Jinan, China. Tonight produced one of the fastest Chinese heats since the techsuit era came to an end.
Men’s 50 free
Following a sensational morning swim during which he broke the Asian record, Liberation Army’s Ning Zetao returned during semis with another sub-22 second performance in the splash-and-dash.
This morning, Ning became the sprint king in Asian with a 21.91 to lay claim to both the 50 and 100 free Asian records. He backed that time up this evening with a 21.99 en route to the top seed in the finale. He’s taken the Asian swimming world by storm this year, coming out of relative obscurity in April at the Chinese Nationals to take down the 100-meter free Chinese record. Now, he’s moving into the international conscience.
During an interview that occurred earlier today, Ning admitted to having a lot more work to do to compete with the best in the world according to media reports in China. Ning said himself that his team calls him the “Little Gal,” because he sometimes gets beat by the girls in training due to his lack of a strong kick. Ning is coached by Ye Jin, who also served as head coach for national-record holder Qi Hui, who also is now coaching.
Zhejiang’s Lu Zhiwu placed a distant second in 22.37 and could have his hands full in the finale trying to track down Ning.
Women’s 200 back
Hunan’s Liao Yali looks to be all by herself at the top of the heap in the women’s 200 back as she clocked a 2:08.70 to lead the semifinal heats. That swim pushed her to ninth in the world rankings ahead of Daryna Zevina’s 2:08.72, but behind Daria Ustinova’s 2:08.39.
Henan’s Li Yuan topped the second semifinal, but finished a distant second heading into the finale with a 2:10.21, while Asian record-holder Zhao Jing cruised into the finale with a third-place time of 2:10.70. Notably, Zhejiang’s Ye Shiwen demonstrated some more specialized ability with a sixth-place 2:11.59 to make the finale. Ye is an IM dynamo who typically relies on a ferocious freestyle leg to blast the field. This week in Shenyang, she’s undertaking a bit wider of an event slate as she’s swimming for national bragging rights for Zhejiang.
Men’s 100 fly
Shanghai’s Shi Feng turned in the top time in semis with a 52.59, but will need to put up a much faster time to contend with some of the top times in the world this year. Eugene Godsoe currently anchors the top 10 in the world with a 51.66 from U.S. Nationals this summer, and China is in a bit of a chase mode trying to catch up in this particular stroke.
Shandong’s Zhang Qibin picked up second out of semis with a 52.77 alongside Shi in the second of two semifinal heats, while Zhejiang’s Wu Peng continued to ride the euphoria of his final meet before retirement with a third-place time of 52.87.
Before the likes of Sun Yang and Ye Shiwen took the world by storm, Wu had carried the banner for Chinese swimming having made the 2004 Athens Olympics at 17 and continuing on at the world-class level for the next decade, including being one of the few men to be able to have claimed head-to-head wins against the Greatest of All Time Michael Phelps in the 200 fly. Wu actually was the man to end Phelps’ nearly nine-year streak of winning in the event with his head-to-head victories in the 2012 USA Swimming Grand Prix.