Mon, Dec 04, 2006 - Page 18 News List

Asian Games: China's swimmers stun in Qatar

HUGELY DOMINANT China won five of six gold medals on offer, missing out only in the men's 400m individual medley -- an event they did not enter

AP AND DPA , DOHA

China's Qi Hui powers through the pool in heat 1 of the women's 400m individual medley swimming event at the Hamad Aquatic Center during the 15th Asian Games in Doha yesterday.

PHOTO: AFP

Wu Peng surged past Japan's Ryuichi Shibata on the final lap of the men's 200m butterfly to help give China five of six gold medals on the opening day of the Asian Games swimming competition on Saturday.

Zhou Yafei defended her title in the 100m butterfly, while Pang Jiaying took gold in the 200m freestyle and Ji Liping won the 50m breaststroke. The results emphatically announced China's return to swimming strength after a series of low-key showings in recent competitions.

Japan won the other gold medal of the night in the men's 400m individual medley -- China did not enter a swimmer in that event. Hidemasa Sano won in 4 minutes, 16.18 seconds from countryman Shinya Taniguchi and South Korea's Han Kyu-chul.

Wu had lagged behind Shibata after 150m, but then accelerated dramatically, urged on by an enthusiastic Chinese cheering section at the Hamad Aquatic Center.

"I've raced Ryuichi Shibata a lot and I know that he's world-class over 150m, so I knew it was OK to lag a bit as long as I turned it on at the last," said Wu, who finished in 1:54.91.

"I have been concentrating on my last 50m and I knew that if I did not trail too much with 50 to go, I could win. I am very, very happy," he said.

Wu won both the 200 butterfly and 200 backstroke at the last Asian Games in Busan, South Korea, at a time when he said he felt little pressure.

"Four years ago, I'd just hit the circuit and I really didn't feel much pressure. It was almost an accident that I'd won," he said.

"This time I really needed to focus and I feel I got the result I deserved," said Wu, who dropped out of the 400m butterfly to focus on the 200m this time.

Shibata ended third at 1:56.44, behind Japan's Takeshi Matsuda, 1:55.49.

Zhou led a Chinese sweep in the women's 100m butterfly, finishing in 58.39 seconds, followed by Xu Yanwei, 58.73, and Tao Li, 58.96.

Ji won in 31.52, followed by Japan's Asami Kitagawa, 32.27, and China's Wang Qun.

Wang, a 14-year-old who last year upset China's Olympic gold medalist Luo Xuejuan in the 100 breaststroke at the East Asian Games, said she was disappointed in finishing more than a second off her personal best.

"It may just be a touch of fatigue. I'm going to keep working hard for the 100m breaststroke," Wang said.

The women's 200m freestyle was a Chinese one-two, with Pang Jiaying taking gold in 1:59.26, followed by Yang Yu at 2:00.73. Japan's Maki Mita was third in 2:00.78.

Pang and Zhou also joined Luo Nan and Zhao Jing to win the women's 400m medley relay.

China won 20 swimming golds at the last Asian Games, but none at the Pan Pacific championships in August. They had been similarly shut out at last year's world championships in Montreal, earning just five medals, none of them gold.

At both of those meets, China didn't field its strongest team, causing some observers to speculate as to why China was keeping its top swimmers out of competition. The taint of the 1990s, when 32 Chinese swimmers were caught for doping offenses, still hangs over the program.

Asked whether he thought Saturday's results meant the Chinese swimmers would sweep away the competition, Shibata said: "I don't think so."

However, teammate Matsuda was more circumspect.

"Clearly we are a team that has some work to do," he said. "We're going to have to push hard."

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