China Lands Swimmer WU Chuanyu and Diver ZHANG Xiunei in International Swimming Hall of Fame

Swimmer - Wu Chuanyu and Diver- Unknown

The International Swimming Hall of Fame (ISHOF) announced the first two Honorees of the seventeen (17) member Class of 2017.  The 53rd Annual ISHOF Induction Weekend will be held in Fort Lauderdale, August 25-27.

It is always a difficult process because there are so many worthy candidates,said Donna de Varona, ISHOF’s Board Chair.  “But once again, our committee members from all over the world have done an outstanding job. Among this years honorees are athletes, coaches and contributors from eight different nations (Argentina, Australia, China, France, Hungary, the Netherlands and Russia) selected from the Olympic sports of swimming, diving, synchronized swimming and water polo.  On behalf of the Board of Directors, I want to thank Camillo Cametti, of Verona Italy, Chairman, and all the members of the International Selection Committee for a job well done.

The first two honorees to be named, representing the Peoples Republic of China, are WU Chuanyu, a swimmer, and diver ZHANG Xiunei.  Both Wu and Zhang will enter the ISHOF in the Pioneer category.  The Pioneer category was created to honor great achievements that have been overlooked by the fog of time or special circumstances that interfered with their careers, such as accidents, war or politics.

Although Wu Chuanyu died in a plane crash over sixty years ago, he was arguably the most famous Chinese athlete of the 1950s and remains one of the most significant and revered figures in the People’s Republic of China today. Born and raised in Indonesia, Wu was ethnically Chinese and was recruited in 1951 by the new communist Chinese government that had come to power two years earlier. In 1952, he became the first athlete to represent the People’s Republic of China in the Olympic Games and after training in Russia and Budapest the next year, he won the 100m backstroke at the 4th World Festival of Youth and Students, in Bucharest. His victory was the first for a Chinese athlete in a major international competition in any sport and the first to have the 5-star red flag and PRC’s national anthem played outside of the motherland. His win was so unexpected that the organizers had neither a PRC flag or national anthem available and the award ceremony had to be delayed for over an hour until these things were found.  When he returned to China, Wu was a national hero. He resumed training in Budapest and as his times approached the world record in the 100m backstroke, even greater things were expected. Then in September of 1954, Wu received another honor when he became the first and only athlete named as a representative to the First National People’s Congress (NPC).  A month after his appointment to the NPC, at the age of 26, he tragically died in a plane crash while on his way back to Budapest after attending the Congress in Beijing. His death put the entire nation into mourning and he is revered today as the father of modern China’s swimming.

Zhang Xiunel dove at a time when the People’s Republic of China was not a member of FINA and could not compete in the Olympic Games or other “sanctioned” events. Her first coach in diving was Wang Shaogang, but in 1958 she joined the Tianjin Diving Team where she was trained by Coach Wu Chengxi. At the first GANEFO (Games of the New Emerging Forces), a competition for independent socialist nations organized by Indonesia as a counter to the Olympic Games. In 1963, Zhang won the 10m platform with a bronze medal on the 3m springboard. Jeng Jeng, a reporter at the time for a Tianjin newspaper, wrote a novel and produced a film based on Zhang’s story and victory.

The movie, “Diving Girls” had an immense influence and inspired generations of young girls to consider diving and the public to appreciate the sport. In fact, it can be said she is at least partly responsible for the positive and highly respected image the sport of diving enjoys in China today.  She later studied and became a professor of sport at Tianjin Athletic Institute.  Her coaching career took off in 1973 when Wang Min won China’s 10m platform and 3m springboard championships.  Many of her divers became regional and provincial coaches who have helped China reach the status as the world’s number one diving nation today. In 2013, ISHOF awarded the “Diving Girls” an Esther Award.  

An edited version, with subtitles can be seen via youtube Video:


The International Hall of Fame, established in 1965, is a not-for-profit educational organization located in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Its mission is to promote the benefits and importance of swimming as a key to fitness, good health, quality of life, and the water safety of all adults and children.  It accomplishes this through operation of the International Swimming Hall of Fame, a dynamic shrine dedicated to preserving the history, memory, and recognition of the famous swimmers, divers, water polo players, synchronized swimmers and people involved in life saving activities and education whose lives and accomplishments inspire, educate, and provide role models for people around the world. For more information contact Bruce Wigo at 954-462-6536 ext. 201, or by email

Press release courtesy of International Swimming Hall of Fame.