China finished aquatics world championships on a high note last weekend, with 19-year-old Sun Yang snagging the host country's fifth swimming gold and setting a world record in the men's 1,500-meter freestyle. Sun, who also won the 800-meter freestyle event and took silver in the 400, finished in 14:34.14, beating Grant Hackett's 10-year-old record.
Sun has taken over the spotlight from teammate Zhang Lin, who became China's first male swimming champion when he won the men's 800-meter freestyle in world record time in Rome in 2009.
China was second in the gold medal count at the FINA championships, hosted in Shanghai in three spectacular brand-new venues at Shanghai Oriental Sports Center. The host took 15 golds to the United States' 17, but had the most overall — 36 medals to the United States' 32. China strengthened its command of the diving, sneaked past Australia for the No. 2 spot in swimming, and were surprise silver-medal winners in women's water polo.
Here's a quick sport-by-sport tally of China's performance:
China swept all 10 gold medals in the diving competition, showing to no one's surprise that they have plenty more talent to extend their domination of the sport at the 2012 Olympics in London. China also won four silvers, for 14 total diving medals.
China's women's team were a Cinderella this year, making it all the way to the final before losing to Greece, 9-8. Granted, it was an unusual year in the women's tournament, with none of the quarterfinal games going to the favored team — 2009 champion United States and runner-up Canada were bounced in that round, as were 2008 Olympic champions Netherlands and perennial contender Australia. The Chinese team's second-place finish raises hopes that they can boost the country's low team-sport medal count in the next Olympics. The men's team missed the playoffs after losing all of their games in group play.
China was second in both the gold medal (5) and total medal (14) counts, surpassing frequent runner-up Australia but still a far cry from the United States, which had 16 gold medals. Two Chinese swimmers who won gold and set world records at the 2009 championships in Rome, Zhang Lin and Liu Zige, were much quieter this year. Zhang only competed in relays, and Liu took bronze in the women's 200 butterfly, losing to teammate Jiao Liuyang.
China's gold medalists:
Women's 200-meter IM: Ye Shiwen, 2:08.90
Women's 100-meter backstroke: Zhao Jing, 59.05
Men's 800-meter freestyle: Sun Yang, 7:38.57
Women's 200-meter butterfly: Jiao Liuyang 2:05.55
Men's 1,500-meter freestyle: Sun Yang, 14:34.14 (WR)
Open water swimming and synchronized swimming
Yes, I know, these two have nothing in common with each other. But China failed to win any gold medals in either. Russia swept the synchro competition with seven golds.
Sun Yang image: Titan Sportsphoto#
Tags: diving, FINA, Sun Yang, swimming, water polo, Zhang Lin
China also ceded the women's 1-meter springboard title, which was claimed by Julia Pakhalina of Russia, with Wu Minxia taking the silver. Qin Kai won the men's 1-meter springboard competition, with Zhang Xinhua coming in second. Australia's Matthew Mitcham, the platform diver who spoiled China's diving sweep aspirations at last summer's Olympics, came in third. Qin also won the 3-meter synchro springboard competition the following day, with partner Wang Feng.
One of China's biggest sports stars and the most-decorated Olympic female diver of all time, Guo Jingjing, opens competition today in the 3-meter individual event, and is expected to be a contender in the finals tomorrow. The diving competition ends Saturday, July 25, with the men's 10-meter synchro event. A complete list of starts and results can be seen on the FINA Web site.
Water polo and synchronized swimming
Water polo play kicks off Monday as well. The Chinese women opened against Hungary, losing 10-7 after coming out to a strong start that had them in a 4-4 tie in the second quarter. China came out of nowhere last summer to place fifth in Olympic competition, with surprising wins over Russia and Italy, and one-point losses to powerhouses Australia and the United States. The men are not as strong--expect them to get walked over by Montenegro (population 678,000, to China's 1.3 billion) Tuesday.
In synchronized swimming, China took bronze in the team technical event Sunday. There are six more competitions to go, with one gold medal awarded every day from Monday through Saturday.
Tags: Chen Ruolin, diving, FINA World Championships, Guo Jingjing, Qin Kai, Wang Feng, water polo, Wu Minxia, Zhang Xinhua
Liu Zige (刘子歌) won gold and Jiao Liuyang won silver in the women's 200 meters butterfly competition, in a rare 1-2 finish for Chinese swimmers. Liu swam a 2:04.18, a new world record and Jiao a 2:04.72.
China went on to win silver in another women's event, the 4 X 200 meters freestyle relay, with a time of 7:45.93. Gold went to Australia, and silver to the United States. Among the men, China's Wu Peng failed to medal in the 200 meter butterfly final, coming in more than two seconds behind bronze medal winner Takeshi Matsuda of Japan.
It should come as no surprise that China is having breakthroughs in the pool at this Olympics. Swimming offers 84 medals, making it a good target for China's effort to lead the gold and overall medal counts. The Chinese Swimming Association keeps its athletes out of most major international competition, so their best times were largely unknown before the games.
Unfortunately, this leads to some suspicion in the swimming world as to whether the athletes are clean. China has had some history with doping scandals, with positive tests after the team stormed the 1994 FINA World Championships, and with backstroker Ouyang Kunpeng failing a drug test earlier this year.
In the other pool, Ying Tung Natatorium, China's women's water polo team pulled off a major upset, beating a strong Russian team, 13-11. China had given reigning world champions the United States a scare two days before, losing by only one point, 12-11.
Image: Chinese Swimming Association
Tags: Beijing Olympics, doping, Jiao Liuyang, Liu Zige, Ouyang Kunpeng, swimming, water polo, Ying Tung Natatorium
8:30 a.m. I run into an old water polo teammate on the Line 10 subway. She has an extra ticket for the afternoon session, which she gives to me. This might be my only chance to see water polo, one of my favorite sports.
9:50 a.m. Get off the subway at the supposed Line 8 transfer point. We follow signs for Line 8 that actually lead us to a security line to get into the Olympic Green—does Line 8 actually exist?
We get in the security line and a volunteer who noticed our tickets pulls us out to tell us that we need to take a bus to get to the tennis.
10:10 a.m. We arrive at the tennis venue, after a ride past the Water Cube and Bird's Nest. I noticed some sponsors' tents, looking a little empty. I've heard that sponsors are a little miffed that only ticket holders are allowed into the Olympic Green (a huge area containing eight venues). They were hoping for more foot traffic.
10:30 a.m. Peng Shuai's match with Alize Cornet of France begins at Center Court. Peng is not playing great, and loses 6-2, 6-2. But luckily our tickets give us access to all of the venue's courts, so more tennis awaits.
1:00 p.m. We move from Center Court to No. 1 Court, where Zheng Jie is playing Nuria Llagostera Vives of Spain. It's the best tennis match that I have ever seen live, with beautiful shots from both players, great effort to chase down balls and at least one deuce in almost every set. The crowd is enthusiastic, maybe a little too much so. Despite regular requests from officials, they never really get the message that tennis culture calls for quiet while each point is being played. With a great boost from the home crowd, the under-rated Zheng wins in three sets that take more than three hours to play.
4:00 p.m. I head to the Olympic bus depot hoping to find an easy shuttle ride to the water polo venue. None of the volunteers seem to know how to get there, so I make my best guess and hop on the bus line 5. It gets me there slowly, and I still have a pretty good walk from the bus to Ying Tung Natatorium.
4:40 p.m. I arrive at the water polo in time to see the second half of play between two of the world's best men's teams, Serbia and Croatia. Croatia wins, 11-8.
5:00 p.m. I watch a surprisingly good Chinese men's team play Germany in the last water polo game of the afternoon. Water polo is new to China, but its teams are improving fast. China's goalie plays great, but the team seems exhausted in the last quarter. China loses, 6-5.
6:45 p.m. I arrive, via subway and taxi, at the beach volleyball venue in Chaoyang Park. It's beautiful from the outside and rockin' on the inside. In addition to the great athleticism on display, the crowd is going nuts over the blaring party music and the bikini-clad dancers who entertain twice for every match played. Beers for 5 RMB do their part to add to the party atmosphere. We get to see a total of six matches, lasting until midnight and including the Chinese duo of Zhang Xi (张希) and Xue Chen (薛晨), who defeat their German opponents.
10:30 I have my second random collision with a friend who doesn't live in China. Charley Walters, a friend from college, has flown in from Los Angeles to watch the games. He has been to the last five Olympics and is blogging about his trip at Olympics or Bust. Just how much of a party is the beach volleyball tournament? Check out his video below.
12:00 a.m. I go home exhausted after three events in three venues, with four competitions featuring Chinese athletes.
Tags: beach volleyball, Beijing Olympics, tennis, water polo, Xue Chen, Zhang Xi, Zheng Jie, 张希, 薛晨
So CST checked in with Heather Petri of the U.S. water polo team, who moved into the village with her teammates earlier this week. She gave a rave review of the place that 2008's Olympians will call home.
"It's simply amazing," says Petri, a three-time Olympian. "It's right up there with Sydney. The way they put everything together gives it a very special feel, and things are seamless. The grounds are beautiful and the food is great." She's had the chance to sample a little local fare, including Peking duck whipped up by IOC chefs.
And between workouts athletes have plenty of distractions. "There's tons of stuff to do—an arcade, Internet center, pool table, disco, outside pool," Petri says. Her only complaint is that she can't share photos from inside.
Petri and the American women open Olympic competition against China August 11. She is blogging about her Olympic experience here.
Tags: Beijing Olympics, Heather Petri, Olympic village, Olympics, water polo
If you're in Beijing, you can see some water polo action this week, as well as get a sneak preview of the Yingtung Natatorium (英东游泳馆) at a steep discount compared to the price of an Olympic ticket.
The Yingtung Natatorium is located in the Olympic complex out at the Fifth Ring Road. The closest subway station, about 10 minutes' walk away, is Huixinxijie Beikou on Line 5. Head east from there, and find the pool to the south. Tickets are 10 or 20 yuan on weekdays, 30 or 50 yuan for weekend games.
Tuesday March 18 (Women)
3:00 Australia defeated China, 9-6
4:30 USA defeated Russia, 15-9
Wednesday March 19 (Men)
3:00 China v. Shanghai
4:30 Guangdong v. Australia
Thursday March 20 (Women)
3:00 Australia v. Russia
4:30 China v. USA
Friday March 21 (Men)
3:00 China v. Guangdong
4:30 Shanghai v. Australia
Saturday March 22 (Women)
3:00 Australia v. USA
4:30 Russia v. China
Sunday March 23 (Men)
3:00 Guangdong v. Shanghai
4:30 China v. Australia
Link: Water Polo Open Homepage
Tags: Good Luck Beijing, test event, water polo, Yingtung Natatorium