Exclusive: World Aquatics president tips China for success in Paris 2024
World Aquatics president tips China for success in Paris 2024
Published: Feb 26, 2024 09:34 PM
Chinese swimmer Pan Zhanle (center) competes in the men's 100-meter freestyle final of the 2024 World Aquatics Championships in Doha, Qatar, on February 15, 2024. Photo: VCG

Chinese swimmer Pan Zhanle (center) competes in the men's 100-meter freestyle final of the 2024 World Aquatics Championships in Doha, Qatar, on February 15, 2024. Photo: VCG

In the recently concluded 2024 World Aquatics Championships, China's young talents made their mark on the international stage to claim the top spot on the medal table.  The swimming team showcased its strongest performance since the 1994 worlds, with a new crop of swimmers achieving remarkable breakthroughs in their debuts at the prestigious global event held in Doha, Qatar.

After 17 days of record-breaking feats and thrilling competitions, China dominated the overall medal tally on February 18 with an impressive haul of 23 gold, eight silver, and two bronze medals, establishing a significant lead over the US in second place, with nine gold medals.

Notably, China's artistic swimming team pulled off its best-ever showing in the history of the worlds by clinching seven golds, one silver, and one bronze medal.

Some marquee Chinese swimmers such as Olympic champion Zhang Yufei and world record holder in the breaststroke, Qin Haiyang, chose to forgo the worlds to focus on the Paris 2024 Summer Olympics in July, paving the way for a cadre of promising young talents led by Pan Zhanle to make headlines in Doha. A total of 11 members of the swimming team seized the spotlight by claiming their maiden world titles.

'So much progress'

Pan, who had hinted at his potential during the Hangzhou Asian Games in 2023 by coming close to breaking the 100m freestyle world record, surpassed expectations in Doha. He shaved off 0.06 seconds from the previous record of 46.86 set by Romanian David Popovici in 2022, courtesy of his exceptional performance in the leadoff split of China's gold medal-winning 4x100m freestyle relay. 

More importantly, this victory marked China's inaugural gold medal in the men's 100-meter freestyle relay at either the world championships or the Olympic Games.

World Aquatics President from Kuwait, Husain Al-Musallam, told the Global Times in an exclusive interview on Sunday that he was extremely impressed with the performance of the Chinese athletes in Doha. 

World Aquatics President Husain Al-Musallam Photo: VCG

World Aquatics President Husain Al-Musallam Photo: VCG

"China was the dominant country in Doha. You have so many outstanding athletes, and, of course, the world record by Pan was incredibly exciting. China has led the world for many years in diving, but I am happy to see that so much progress is also being made in sports like swimming and artistic swimming," said Al-Musallam. 

President Al-Musallam said Pan's great performance elevates swimming to a higher level as the 19-year-old finished the worlds with a tally of four golds, marking himself as a force to be reckoned with on the international stage.

As the sole athlete to set a new world record in Doha, Pan solidified his place on the leaderboard by clinching his first individual world title in the 100-meter freestyle final. This result establishes him as one of the leading contenders for success at the Paris 2024 Summer Olympics. 

Looking ahead to the Paris Games, Al-Musallam anticipates a strong showing from the Chinese athletes.

"I am very confident that these will be an excellent Olympic Games for China. We have seen in Fukuoka and Doha the depth of talent in the Chinese team. I am sure that we will see many Chinese medalists on the podium in Paris," he noted. 

Special memories of Beijing

The president was also delighted to announce in Doha that Beijing will host the World Aquatics Championships in 2029. The capital, which is the first city in the world to have hosted both the summer and winter editions of the Olympic Games, became the second Chinese mainland city to host the global flagship event after Shanghai in 2011.

Beijing will welcome over 2,500 athletes from more than 200 countries and regions, who will participate in six aquatic disciplines including swimming, diving, water polo, artistic swimming, open water swimming, and high diving.

"Beijing has repeatedly welcomed major aquatics events, providing excellent conditions that enable our athletes to perform at their very best," said Al-Musallam, noting that  "the global aquatics community can look forward to world-class sporting action and entertainment in one of the world's most iconic cities."

"I have many special memories of the Water Cube [National Aquatics Centre] at the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008, and I'm happy that our athletes will compete there again. China is a very important member of the World Aquatics family. Not only is it a large country, but also it has a population that is passionate about aquatic sports," said the president.  

Continuing its dedication to aquatic sports, China is set to host three major World Aquatics events in 2024, including the World Aquatics Artistic Swimming World Cup in Beijing from April 5 to 7, the World Aquatics Diving World Cup - Super Final in Xi'an, Shaanxi Province, from April 19 to 21, and the first leg of the World Aquatics Swimming World Cup in Shanghai from October 18 to 20.

See you in Paris

China maintained its dominance in diving as the Chinese team won nine gold medals out of a possible 13 on offer in Doha. Olympic champion Quan Hongchan secured her first individual world title in the women's 10-meter platform. 

During an exhibition diving event in 2021, Al-Musallam was impressed with Quan's achievement and interviewed her after the awards ceremony. Their conversation was a hit on China's social media when the president said the World Aquatics was proud of having such an outstanding athlete. 

Al-Musallam said that he looks forward to meeting Quan and other Chinese athletes in Paris. 

"Quan is a very special athlete. It's extraordinary how much she has already achieved at 16 years old. I always enjoy speaking with athletes. They are the most important members of the World Aquatics family, and I learn so much from my conversations with them," he noted. 

"I hope to meet as many members of the Chinese team as I can in Paris after they have finished competing," he said.