Zhang fires Olympic warning as China narrowly miss 4x100m mixed medley relay world record at Hangzhou Asian Games

Gold medallist China's Zhang Yufei celebrates on the podium during the medals ceremony for the women's 100m butterfly swimming event during the Hangzhou 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou, in China's eastern Zhejiang province on Wednesday, September 27, 2023. - AFP

HANGZHOU: Zhang Yufei blasted the fastest time of the year Wednesday to win Asian Games 100m butterfly gold and bolster her status as a favourite for the Paris Olympics.

On another strong evening in the pool in Hangzhou for the hosts, she then helped China to come within a whisker of shattering the 4x100m mixed medley relay world record.

The world champion Zhang, who had already claimed the 200m fly crown in Hangzhou to go with her Olympic gold, surged to the wall in a new Games-record 55.86sec.

It was one of four golds won by the hosts on day four of the six-day swimming competition, taking their tally to 19 titles from 27 so far.

But they didn't have it all their own way, with Japan winning two finals and South Korea one, with Hwang Sun-woo taming Chinese freestyle prodigy Pan Zhanle to win the men's 200m freestyle.

Zhang's new mark in the 100m butterfly was better than the 56.12 that earned her the world title in July. But she wasn't happy.

"It doesn't feel so good. This wasn't the record I wanted, I wanted the world record," she said.

"I was aiming for it because even if I couldn't break it, I wanted to come close.

"If I change my targets I will not have the drive to go for Paris 2024 or for other goals after Paris," she added of her high-expectations.

Swedish great Sarah Sjostrom has held the world mark of 55.48 since the 2016 Rio Olympics, with Zhang's all-time best 55.62.

A 100m butterfly silver medallist at the Tokyo Olympics, behind Maggie Mac Neil, Zhang turned the tables at the Fukuoka world championships by edging the Canadian for gold.

Japan's Ai Soma and China's Wang Yichun trailed in her wake, with Rikako Ikee, the standout performer at the last Asian Games with six golds, fifth.

Zhang suited up again for the relay, part of a powerhouse team featuring triple breaststroke world champion Qin Haiyang, backstroker Xu Jiayu and freestyler Yang Junxuan.

They clocked 3:37.73 -- the second fastest of all-time behind Britain's 3:37.58, set at the Tokyo Olympics.

Athletes from China pose with their gold medals after the Mixed 4 x 100m Medley Relay Final. - ReutersAthletes from China pose with their gold medals after the Mixed 4 x 100m Medley Relay Final. - Reuters

- No regrets -

Rapidly rising Chinese teenager Pan swam a sensational 46.97 to earn 100m freestyle gold this week, making him only the fifth man ever to go under 47 seconds.

But he was no match for world 200m bronze medallist Hwang, who started strongly over the first 50 and never relented despite Pan staging a late charge.

Hwang powered to the finish line in a new Games record 1:44.40 -- the third fastest of the year -- with Pan taking silver nearly a second adrift. South Korea's Lee Ho-joon came third.

"I have no regrets because I've given my all," said Pan.

With Japan's Olympic gold medallist Yui Ohashi opting out of the 400m medley, Chinese 18-year-old Yu Yiting took the title in 4:35.44 to add to her 200m medley gold.

"It was really a tough battle out there and it was very close towards the end," said Yu. "I gave it everything I had and I had nothing left in the tank when I touched the wall."

China's Wan Letian bagged her first major title with a fighting victory in the women's 100m backstroke.

Japan's Katsuhiro Matsumoto outpaced China's Wang Changhao for gold in the 100m butterfly in the best result of his career.

Japan's Reona Aoki edged veteran teammate Satomi Suzuki to clinch the women's 100m breaststroke honours. - AFP

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