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Primed to make a splash

By SUN XIAOCHEN | China Daily | Updated: 2021-07-21 09:54
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From left: Butterfly star Zhang Yufei, and freestylers Li Bingjie and Wang Jianjiahe lead a young Chinese women's swimming team intent on fighting for medals at the Tokyo Olympics. [Photo/Xinhua]

Team China's pool speedsters thin on experience but brimming with ambition at Tokyo Olympics

Editor's Note: In the seventh installment of China Daily's Tokyo Olympics preview series, we take an in-depth look at the Chinese swimming squad.

A hungry young Chinese swimming squad will bid to emerge from the shadow of the Sun Yang controversy and reboot the national program at the Tokyo Olympics.

The squad arrives in the Japanese capital without clear gold-medal favorites or any Olympic winners among its ranks after three-time champion Sun was last month ruled out of the Games by a four-year ban for doping-control violations.

Led by women's butterfly sprinter Zhang Yufei and men's backstroke world champion Xu Jiayu, the fresh-faced squad still possesses enough talent to make a strong impression on the biggest stage and kick-start a new era for Chinese swimming.

Two-time Olympic women's individual medley champion Ye Shiwen and 50m freestyle Asian-record holder Liu Xiang also miss Tokyo 2020 after they both failed to regain top form during the extra year's wait for the Games due to the pandemic.

Among China's 30-strong team, the smallest since the 2000 Sydney Games, Zhang has emerged as the most promising title contender. The 23-year-old owns this year's world-leading time in the women's 200m butterfly-2 minutes and 5.44 seconds, recorded at May's national trials.

Hali Flickinger of the United States is the only other woman to crack the 2:06 mark this year after posting a personal best of 2:05.85 at the US Olympic trials last month. Flickinger and 2019 world champion Boglarka Kapas of Hungary, the event's third fastest swimmer this year, are expected to be Zhang's main rivals for gold in Tokyo.

Zhang has also been lighting up her lane in the 100m butterfly, after clocking 55.62 in a heat at last year's national championships to set the world's fastest time for the 2020-21 season.

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