WR: 2:04.18 - 200 ' Fly - Liu Zige's Gold For China
Aug 14, 2008 - Craig Lord
The world of swimming cannot say a word. Such are the life and times of this bodysuited age. Liu Zige and Jiao Liuyang are the toast of town here in Beijing this morning after shattering standards in the 200m butterfly final. Liu, 19, clocked a world record of 2:04.18 and Jiao, 17, came home in 2:04.72. Jessicah Schipper (AUS) was left languishing back on 2:06.26 for bronze. Defending champion Otylia Jedrzrejczak (POL) was locked out of the medals, on 2:07.02.
The last time China won Olympic gold in the pool was Luo Xuejuan's 100m breast victory in 2004, before that Le Jingyi in the 100m free in Atlanta 1996 in the midst of the doping crisis. The last Chinese women to hold world records were Wu Yanyan and Chen Yan in October 1997. Both were subsequently suspended for steroids. Those were the days!
The pace of progress of the latest Chinese breakers is just as phenomenal. But now, it fits the picture. If you look at Liu in isolation - astonishing. If you look at her in the context of what has gone down at the Water Cube - about right. Argument over. Yes, China has a filthy past and in that past such a leap in standards and a turnaround from a world championships in 2007 that produced not even a sniff of success for the host Olympic nation would have been followed by protest. Justifiably. Not possible now. Liu and Jiao's progress is no further off the chart than anyone else's.
It should also be noted that the Chinese teenagers swam a clever race. Liu sat on Schipper's shoulder as the Australian raced inside world-record pace at 50m (27.75 to 27.80, with Jiao on 28.19) and 100m (58.99 to 59.37, with Jiao on 1:00.36). Down the third length, Liu edged ahead going into the last turn (1:31.59 to Schipper's 1:32.06) as Jiao crept up to third on 1:32.68. Down that third length, the world record holder split 33.02 and was struggling. The Chinese pair clocked 32.22 (Liu) and 32.32. Schipper returned home in the slowest last 50m of the final - 34.20. Fatigue was as much psychological as physical at that stage, one would imagine. Not easy to watch as two competitors you could hammer a little over a year ago race on into uncharted waters ahead of you.
Liu returned home in 32.59 and Jiao in 32.04, the fastest homecoming of the final. It was stunning to behold. The Chinese success brought the house down at the medals ceremony.
Liu said: "I didn't feel pressure before the competition. I tried to relax. And in the race I just swam at my own pace, not caring about others. My Coach said to me that we will have two Chinese swimmers in the final, so you don't need to force yourself to win gold, you just need to try your best."
And what a best it was. The girls on the podium radiated happiness. They do not resemble the generation gone, the Golden Flowers who wilted under the shame of doping fed to them by rogues of coaching and medical worlds who never paid the price.
China has made a new start, it is said. More time will need to pass before we can say that with absolute confidence in our hearts and minds given that weight of the crime that unfolded in the 1990s, stretched back to the late 1980s and reached into the new Millennium.