ANSHAN, China, May 3. AT the Chinese Nationals in Anshan, April 24-27 (presumably their Pan-Pac
Trials too), 18-year-old Xu Yanwei sent a message to Lindsay Benko: be prepared.
The Chinese swimmer, who made an auspicious debut at the PRC Nationals a year ago with 25.52/54.68 50-100 free clockings, then dropped to 25.02/54.40 at last fall's National Games in Shanghai, showed she's getting better with age as she went world-leading 54.82/1:58.77 100-200 frees, and won the 50 in 25.59.
(At that same National Games meet Zhang Liang, who went the year's fastest 200 free — 1:58.11 — also set an Asian Record in the 800 with her winning and world-leading 8:26.48. The Asian Record for the 400 is 4:05.00 by Chen Yan, who did it at the National Games in Shanghai five years ago.)
Benko, the former USC standout who won the World Short Course 200-400 frees last month in Moscow, has a 200 free pr of 1:58.86 leading off Uncle Sam's gold
medal-winning 800 free relay at Sydney.
Benko will be out to improve upon that time at this summer's U.S. Nationals in Ft. Lauderdale, selection meet for the Pan-Pac team. And figuring she'll make the plane to Yokohama with ease, she'll not only have Yu to contend with there but also Atlanta Olymapic gold medalist Claudia Poll, still going strong at 30 — and Australians Elka Graham and Giann Rooney, Nos. 2-3 in the world last season.
Poll went a Central American-record 55.72 to win the U.S. Nationals 100 free title in Minneapolis in late March, and has a 200 pr of 1:57.62 from the '97 Pan-Pacs in Fukuoka. That time — aside from also being a Central American record — is seventh on the all-time performances' list (sixth performer). She's also fastest among any active woman in the 200 free save Germany's world record-holder, Franny Van Almsick, of whom virtually nothing has been heard since her silver at Atlanta six years ago.
Some might say, "Well, what's Poll done lately in the 200"? The answer is last summer at Fukuoka (World Championships) she went a 1:58.92 for the bronze medal.
Having won an Olympic gold medal and having done so at the expense of the then reigning World Champion and still world record-holder Franny V, Poll has the experience of having raced — and — beaten the best.
The same can't be said for Ms. Wu, of course, as she has had virtually no major international experience.
Conspicuously absent from the 200 finals In Anshan was last year's Chinese world-leader, Mlle. Zhang, who rose from nowhere to go that No. 1 1:58.11. She did final in the 50 free with a modest 26+ for fifth.
(Perhaps she merely forgot the stawberries and cream for her Wheaties?)
In the 400-800 frees, the latter a race Benko will also contest, 20-year-old Chen Hua — no relation to Chen Yan — splashed to world-leading 4:08.87/8:30.07
clockings. Her 400 time was a pr, eclipsing her 4:09.56 from the National Games, and her 800 is not far off her pr of 8:26.54 — also from Shanghai.
Perhaps the most stirring of Chen's swims, however, was in the 1500 free where she went an Asian Record 16:14.51, breaking the old of 16:18.95 by Japan's Sachiko Yamada from the Y2K Meet of Champions in Mission Viejo.
No Chinese woman had ever been under 16:32 before and He Qian made it a pair with her 16:25.63. With this race now an official part of the World Championships and perhaps an Olympic event in six years at Beijing, it's not unreasonable to expect to see more Chinese among the ranks of the world leaders as the years progress.
A cynic might be tempted to comment upon how the Chinese swim so masterfully at the National Games but never anywhere else. However, let us wait and see
how things unfold at Yokohama before passing judgement.
Aussies Graham (1:58.54r) and Rooney (1:58.57), who won the gold at Fukuoka)in the 200 free and then added the 800 free relay title, along with Graham, will also be on hand in Japan to make life interesting for Benko, last month's Swimming World covergirl.
The Chinese girls who were runners-up in the 200, 400, 800 frees did much more modest times of 2:00.15(Yang Yu), 4:13.74 (Tang Jingzi) and 8:38.65 (Zhang Yan).
In the 100 back, three swimmers were under 1:03 with the top time a 1:02.02 by 16-year-old Cheng Jianu, Zhan Shu's 1:02.68 was second. The 200 back saw 13-year-old Zhang Shong swim a fine 2:12.61 with Chen Xiujun's 2:12.78 second.
At this meet last year, which then also served as China's World Championship Trials,16-year-old Qi Hui went a world-record 2:21.99 in the 200 breast, then took second at Fukuoka behind Hungary's Agnes Kovacs, who also won Olympic gold the previous year and was this season's NCAA runner-up in the 100-200 breast to Stanford's Tara Kirk.
Qi didn't set any world records this time around, but still went a 1:08.27 to win the 100 and 2:23.74 for the 200 title, the latter fastest globally.
"Graybeard" Luo Xuejuan (18) was second in the 100 (1:08.55) and even grayerbeard Luo Nan (22) was runner-up in the 200 (2:24.41).
The world 100 breast leader is Australia's "Lethal" Leisel Jones, 16,who did an NR 1:07.31 at the Australian Age Group Championships last month. Jones
had also been the world-leader in the 200 (2:26.08) but she's now been eclipsed by the two Chinese.
However, Kirk wil undoubtedly be a force to be reckoned with at Yokohama in both breast races (perhaps the 50 too), and defending Olympic 100 champ
Megan Quann will also likely be in the mix.
In the 100 fly, it was Xu Yanwei winning over Zheng Xi, 59.78-59.94, and in the 200 it was Tanyi Zhang (2:11.24) winning over Liu Yin (2:11.83). The former is 20, the latter 18.
Breaststroke champ Qi also won the 200 IM (2:14.00, fastest in the world); and Zhang won the 400 IM (pr 4:45.17). Qi's IM pr is a 2:12.46 that won her the bronze at Fukuoka behind Olympic champ Yana Klochkova and America's Maggie Bowen.
Klochkova, the Ukranian star who won both IMs at Sydney and the 400 IM at the World Championships, won't be at Yokohama but bet your bottom dollar
Auburn's Divine Ms. B will — and she'll not only be after Summer Sanders' American record of 2:11.91 from the Barcelona Olympics a decage ago but also the global standard of 2:09.72 by China's Wu Yanyan from the National Games in 1997. Wu later tested positive for steroids and was banned for four years, however FINA allowed her record to stand.
Bowen's pr is 2:12.93 that won her the gold last summer.
Wu's time is still the only sub 2:10.0, with Klochkova's 2:10.68 from Sydney the world's scond-best performance.
The Chinese men, as usual, lagged far behind their women teammates as far as world-class performances were concerned. Backstroker-flyer Ouyang Kunpeng
fared among the best with a 55.97 100 back win, and 54.13-1:58.49 100-200 fly wins — the latter a national record, breaking Wu Peng's 1:58.89 from the
Wu went a pr 4:21.59 to win the 400 IM, took second in the 200 fly (2:01.70) and Cheng Yang won the 200 IM in 2:05.40. Zheng Qiliang won the 100 breast (1:03.28) and Chang Hao the 200 (2:17.27).