Wang Shun is among China's main gold-medal contenders at the FINA World Championships, which will take place in Budapest from Saturday until July 3. （Photo/Xinhua）
Pool stars primed for more success after Tokyo glory
Boasting a blend of experience and promising young talent, Team China is eyeing gold medals and breakthroughs at the FINA World Championships, which begin in Budapest on Saturday.
China's 45-strong swimming squad is packed full of Olympic and world champions, with stars such as Wang Shun, Zhang Yufei and Xu Jiayu eager to impress again and help China improve on the four gold, two silver and two bronze medals the nation won at the last FINA worlds, held in Gwangju, South Korea, in 2019.
The trip to the Hungarian capital will be the sixth world championships for Wang Shun, who claimed gold in the 200m individual medley at the Tokyo Olympics. The 28-year-old won 200m IM bronze medals at the 2015 and 2017 worlds. Gold in Budapest would complete a "Grand Slam" of major titles for the veteran.
In a boost to Wang's glory bid, Britain's Olympic 200m IM silver medalist Duncan Scott was a late withdrawal from the championships this week due to COVID-19.Scott said he was "really struggling with high intensity" because of the virus.
"I'm ready for the worlds and my goal is to win the gold and achieve the Grand Slam. I plan to produce my best performances," said Wang.
"We've had several training sessions here in Budapest, it all feels very familiar. I'm excited and have big expectations here. It all feels good.
"With all the expectations, the priority for me is that my final preparations go smoothly, so train well and rest well. I need to be in peak physical and mental condition for the coming competitions. For me, the biggest rival is always myself."
Another Chinese swimming star to watch is Zhang Yufei. The 24-year-old became a household name in China last summer when she bagged four medals at the Tokyo Olympics.
After powering to the 200m butterfly title in an Olympic-record time, Zhang topped the podium again in the 4x200m freestyle relay in Tokyo. She also won silvers in the 100m butterfly and 4x100m mixed medley.
This will be Zhang's fourth worlds, where she will be hoping to add gold to the three bronze medals she won at the 2015 and 2017 meets.
As a much more mature swimmer nowadays, Zhang is tipped to top the podium in multiple disciplines in Budapest, with the butterfly her strongest stroke.
Her main challenger is expected to be American teenager Torri Huske, who led the 100m butterfly final at the Tokyo Olympics with about 25 meters to go before fading to fourth place.
"I competed in Budapest five years ago at the 2017 world championships, so everything is very familiar to me. I feel good in the pool here," Zhang told Xinhua.
"I hope I can win gold in the 200m and 100m butterfly competitions."
Chinese backstroke ace Xu Jiayu will be going for his third straight 100m world title, having won back-to-back golds in 2017 and 2019.
"This is my third time competing in Budapest－apart from the world championships, I also competed in other FINA competitions here," said Xu, who owns two Olympic silver medals, one each from the Rio and Tokyo Games.
"I have great memories here, having stood on the highest podium. I'm aiming high trying to win the third gold. It always feels good to be back here."
Meanwhile, China's diving team is also expected to be among the golds in Budapest, with the 17-strong squad featuring six Olympic champions.
But with many veterans retiring after the Tokyo Games, these championships represent something of a discovery mission for the newbies in the squad.
China has long been a dominant force in diving. At the 2019 worlds, Chinese divers pocketed 12 of the 13 gold medals on offer, along with four silver and one bronze. The new additions to the squad are, therefore, keen to see if they can meet the lofty standards of their predecessors.
Budapest will be the first world championships for teenage sensation Quan Hongchan, who won the women's 10-meter platform gold with three perfect scores at the Tokyo Olympics.
"Everything is going well these days and I still have hard work to do ahead of the competitions," said 15-year-old Quan. "I really hope I can win gold medals at my first world championships."
Another teenage star to watch is Chen Yuxi, who won 10m synchro gold and 10m platform silver in Tokyo. The 16-year-old arrives in Budapest as the reigning world champion in the 10m platform, having triumphed in 2019 in South Korea.
"I was too young to fully understand how important the world championships are to us in 2019. So I wasn't nervous at all," said Chen. "That experience from those championships is really valuable to me. And I hope I can have the same mentality as before.
"Quan Hongchan and I have very positive competition between us inside the team. With such competition, we can grow together. No matter who is better than who this time, we will handle the result in a very positive way. I hope we can all have great performances."