Ning Zetao starts his 50 meters freestyle final at the East Asian Games in Tianjin on Monday. Photo: Xinhua
Ning Photo: CFP
East Asian Games titles boosted the confidence of Chinese swimmer Ning Zetao, who hopes to make a bigger international splash in a few years.
Ning, 20, who set two Asian records in the men's 50 meters and 100 meters freestyle at the Chinese National Games last month, claimed both events at the East Asian Games in the closest times to his personal bests.
Ning splashed home in 48.41 seconds in 100 meters freestyle, 0.14 second behind his record, and produced the winning time of 22.40 second over 50 meters, 0.49 seconds off his Asian mark.
"It is my first international event," said Ning. "I really want to swim my best and earn a ticket to the national team. I did not have a single day off after the stressful National Games.
"I am happy that my results are pretty close to my personal best. In fact, I had expected to break the Asian record again over 100 meters, but I missed it. It is a pity."Sensational at relays
What made Ning stand out was his strong performance at the relays. He clocked 47.44 seconds in his last split in the men's 4x100 meters freestyle relay and 47.31 seconds in the medley relay.
According to SwimVortex, a professional swimming website, Ning's results in the two relay events matched with the pace of Anthony Ervin and Cameron McEvoy's relay splits in the world-title finals this summer at the World Championships in Barcelona.
It is also faster than three of the four French winners and every other swimmer in the final barring Italy's Marco Orsi.
"Many people are surprised with my progress this year while I'm not. It's just a start, a good one. I have been waiting for this moment for a long time," Ning said.Unfortunate adolescence
Hailing from the Zhengzhou, Central China's Henan Province, Ning entered the local training team at the age of 11 and joined the navy team in 2007.
Ning first caught attention 2009 when he finished eighth in the 400 meters individual medley at the National Games.
Born with a bone infection in both knees, Ning could not train hard on his kicks since the pain is excruciating.
"I was born with it and I can't complain about it," said Ning. "The pain is too much when I train kicks. I am the slowest in kicks in my team and might be the slowest too in top 16 swimmers in national events."
Ning also suffers from indigestion and has to eat more times and less food every time. Usually he eats "soft" food which is easy to digest, and he eats alone.
"My poor stomach made it impossible for me to complete a week-long full time training in recent years. I train for a few sessions and rest for the rest of the week. I'm a frequent visitor to the hospital," he said.
"During the last period of 2012/13 winter training, my stomach was getting better and I could train more than before. That was why I could set a national record in April," added Ning.Turning point
While most national champions competed in the Barcelona worlds, Ning stayed back at Shanghai training center.
"My coach told me that I'd better improve with systematic training during the summer," said Ning.
"I believe she was right. Without the three-month training, I could not have produced the results I did at the National Games and East Asian Games.
"My idol is Russian great Alexander Popov, who won the Olympic gold after he was stabbed on the street. He is a fighter and I need to learn from him."
With care from coaches, doctors and nutritionists, Ning is now away from the hospital and trains as normally as others in this year.
"I hope I can enter the national team soon and compete for China in international events," he said. "Chinese men's swimmers have never placed in the top eight in the sprint freestyle. I hope I can do it, just as Sun Yang did in the mid-long distance free.
"I will be 23 years old in 2016. I don't want to rush it and I believe I am on the right track. I started well this year and hope to fly higher in 2016."
Xinhua - Global Times