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China wins historical synchro swimming medal, thumbs up to Japanese coach

Source: Xinhua | 08-23-2008 21:51

Special Report:   2008 Beijing Olympic Games

by sportswriter Lou Chen

BEIJING, Aug. 23 (Xinhua) -- It was not a gold medal, but a dozen of young synchronized swimmers trained hard for it, cried for it, and finally rejoiced at it.

It's a bronze medal, the first ever Olympic medal for China in synchronized swimming.

"This is a dream come true moment," said Chinese coach Zheng Jia, "for years, we've been trying to catch up with the best teams. We started from zero to finally standing on the podium. That was a long way."

Zheng beamed with joy as she waited anxiously to hug and congratulate her swimmers, who emerged out of the water as happy as larks. Zhang Xiaohuan, the 28-year-old team captain and a third time Olympian, was particularly joyful.

"This might be the last time for me to compete in an international competition. I will never forget this through my whole life," she said.

When Zhang led her teammates onto the blue-carpeted stage, she was determined to make a breakthrough. Just two days ago, the Chinese twins Jiang Tingting and Jiang Wenwen missed out on the duet medal, leaving the only medal chance to the team performers.

Wearing costumes emblazoned with golden dragons, Zhang and her teammates dove in the water to perform their dragon-themed routine, which they have been practising for a year.

The swimmers cut through the water to a powerful music piece of "the Yellow River" and the Jasmine, while spectators filled the 13,000-seat Water Cube to cheer them on. They not only impressed the audience, also the judges, winning a couple of 9.7 and 9.8 points to push them to the third place, following Russian and Spanish swimmers.

"The girls delivered their performance brilliantly. Our music was more powerful and the performance is more impressive than the Japanese team," coach Zheng said.

Synchronized swimming is a subjectively judged sport, and it takes time to win recognition. In the last 24 years as an Olympic sport, worldwide, it has been dominated by Russia, and in Asia, Japan has frequently been the No. 1.

Still not strong enough to challenge Russia and a fast-improving Spain, the Chinese swimmers took Japan as their main rivals.

In 2006, they dethroned the longtime Asian champion at the Doha Asian Games in both duet and team routines, but Japan came up and elbowed China out of the top three in the 2007 world championships. In the Olympic duet final, the Japanese pair outscored China's Jiang twins and took away the bronze.

Synchronized swimming is far from being a popular sport in China, but the swimmers took on demanding training program to better their performance. They swim an average of 4,000 meters every day and have to master acrobatic stunts, ballet movement while work hard to exercise great breath control under water. Sometimes they have to eat three times more than the normal dietary portions to increase strength and stability in water.

The rigorous training benefited the Chinese synchronized swimmers, and they embarked on a faster lane when the Japanese coach Masayo Imura came to their assistance at the end of 2006. The 58-year-old Imura has tutored Japan's synchro swimming team since 1978, helping her swimmers win eight Olympic medals over the past 30 years.

"She brought a lot of changes to the team with the extended training and breakthrough methods. She is dedicated and strict. She brought new techniques to us and corrected our own skills," said Zhang Xiaohuan.

Imura came under the stereotyped criticism for helping foreign athletes, but she remains focused on helping the Chinese swimmers.

"Coaching the Chinese swimmers was nothing but my job, and I'm glad my goal was realized," she said. Imura's contract with China will terminate after the Olympics, and it has not been confirmed whether the contract will be extended.

"We wouldn't want her to go," said Zhang Xiaohuan, the team captain, "we have to work harder to keep our place and improve. Our next goal is to win a medal in the 2009 world championships."


Editor:Xiong Qu