Double gold: China’s Zhang becomes a breakout star at pool

Jul 28, 2021, 12:13 PM | Updated: Jul 29, 2021, 1:37 am

TOKYO (AP) — Zhang Yufei had a much busier morning than she was expecting at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre.

It was worth the effort.

She left with a pair of gold medals and a couple of records, too.

Zhang started off Thursday with a dominating victory in the women’s 200-meter butterfly, finishing more than a body length ahead of two Americans in an Olympic-record time.

“My coach told me I didn’t have to think too much,” Zhang said through an interpreter. “Just be myself. I really wanted this medal.”

About an hour later, the 23-year-old returned to the deck to swim for China on the 4×200 freestyle relay.

It was a race she hadn’t planned for. It was a race her teammates never expected to win.

After all, the Australians had double-gold medalist Ariarne Titmus taking the opening leg. The Americans countered with freestyling star Katie Ledecky handling their anchor. The final was expected to be a duel between those two powerhouse teams.

Instead, it was the Chinese touching first in a race where all three teams eclipsed the previous world record.

China’s time of 7 minutes, 40.33 seconds is the one that will go into the record books, sending Zhang to the top of the medal podium at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre for the second time.

“I didn’t know I was doing it until I’d finished the 200 butterfly and our coach told me, ‘You’re in the relay,'” she said. “I didn’t even know how to swim the 200 free, although I have the training qualities and levels for the 200 distances.”

Clearly, she’s a quick study.

Zhang will go down as one of the breakthrough swimming stars at the Tokyo Games. She also won a silver in the 100 butterfly.

Not bad for someone who had never claimed a major international title before these Olympics.

Zhang’s best showing in three appearances at the world championships is third. Her lone race at the 2016 Rio Games produced a sixth-place finish in the 200 fly.

Now, she’s a double Olympic champion.

“We knew Zhang would be swimming in the relay, but the coach told us not to tell her,” said Li Bingjie, who swam the anchor leg for China. “She was the last one to know.”

Li conceded that her team went into the race merely hoping to get a bronze.

“We didn’t expect to win the gold,” she said. “We just tried to finish third because Australia and the United States are very strong.”

The Chinese led the entire race, holding off a hard charge by Ledecky at the end.

Zhang, swimming the third leg, posted the slowest time among China’s four swimmers. But it was a gusty performance after her individual victory.

“We were inspired by her 200 butterfly and we were excited,” Li said. “It made us determined to do our best at the relay.”

___

Paul Newberry is an Atlanta-based national writer and sports columnist covering his 14th Olympics. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963 and his work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paulnewberry

___

More AP Olympic coverage: https://www.apnews.com/OlympicGames and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Shohei Ohtani, left, of Los Angeles Angels, and Japan's manager Hideki Kuriyama, right, pose togeth...
Associated Press

Ohtani set for WBC in Japan, but Angels future uncertain

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Although Shohei Ohtani’s long-term future with the Los Angeles Angels is decidedly uncertain as he heads into the final season under contract, the two-way superstar’s plans for the spring are all set. Ohtani will make one start on the Cactus League mound this month for the Angels before he heads to […]
2 days ago
Kansas City Chiefs General Manager Brett Veach speaks after the NFL AFC Championship playoff footba...
Associated Press

Super Bowl-bound Chiefs are built around Patrick Mahomes

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs are built around their half-billion dollar All-Pro quarterback, and for the past five years, Super Bowl-bound Patrick Mahomes has made everyone else around him all the more valuable. He’s taken marginal wide receivers and turned them into stars. Mediocre offensive linemen became stalwarts. Finishing the second […]
2 days ago
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman speaks before the NHL All-Star hockey game, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023, i...
Associated Press

Gary Bettman defends NHL handling of Pride night situations

SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman at his state of the game news conference Saturday at All-Star Weekend defended the way the league and two teams handled situations that arose regarding Pride night celebrations. Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov did not take part in warmups Jan. 18 because he refused to wear a […]
2 days ago
Atlantic Division's Matthew Tkachuk, of the Florida Panthers (19) and Metropolitan Division's Brock...
Associated Press

NHL All-Star Game final matchup: Central vs Atlantic

SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — The Central Division and the Atlantic Division have reached the final of the NHL All-Star Game. One of them will actually win the thing. Florida’s Matthew Tkachuk had three goals and two assists — his five points tying a single-game record for the 3-on-3 All-Star format — in the Atlantic’s 10-6 […]
2 days ago
FILE - Texas sports editor, Denne Freeman listens to University of Texas Safety Stanley Richard dur...
Associated Press

Former AP sports writer Denne H. Freeman dies at 86

DALLAS (AP) — Retired longtime Associated Press sports writer Denne H. Freeman, whose 32 years with the AP included covering all five Super Bowl championships won by the Dallas Cowboys and many golf majors, has died after a series of health issues. He was 86. Freeman’s family said he died Friday night at a Plano […]
2 days ago
FILE - Allegiant Stadium is shown during the second half of the Pro Bowl NFL football game between ...
Associated Press

NFL infuses Pro Bowl with points system, flag football

LAS VEGAS (AP) — The NFL finally stopped pretending its all-star game was an actual game, and is breathing life into the exhibition with Sunday’s Pro Bowl Games. There will be no tackle football played for the first time — not that there was much tackling in recent years, more like two-hand touch. Flag football […]
2 days ago
Double gold: China’s Zhang becomes a breakout star at pool