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July 30, 2021

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Golden double for ‘butterfly queen’

Zhang Yufei wrapped herself in a Chinese flag and beamed with joy after setting an Olympic record to win gold in the 200-meter butterfly at the Tokyo Games yesterday.

Less than half an hour later, the 23-year-old won a second gold medal as part of China’s 4x200m freestyle relay team which beat the United States and hot favorite Australia.

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 powerhouses.

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.

“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.”

“Before the 200m butterfly I really wanted this medal but I felt more nervous about it of course,” Zhang said.

“Before the race, my coach told me you don’t need to think too much ... be yourself and you will be champion and the result may even exceed expectations and even the record.

“Of course hearing that I thought he was just joking,” she told a news conference after both races.

Zhang, who finished runner-up to Canada’s Margaret MacNeil in the 100, touched the wall in 2:03.86 for the 200 butterfly, well ahead of US pair Regan Smith and Hali Flickinger, to win China’s first swimming gold of the Games.

Waving her arms and cheering after the win, a teary-eyed Zhang soaked up the moment, beaming at her teammates in the stands after exiting the pool as they chanted her name.

Xuzhou-born Zhang, dubbed China’s “butterfly queen,” is part of the country’s new generation of rising stars emerging from the shadow of Olympic and world champion Sun Yang, who has been banned for four years due to doping violations.

Zhang, who finished sixth in the Rio final, could not stop smiling as she received her medal on the podium then rushed to pick up a large Chinese flag that had been thrown down onto the pool deck.

Wrapping it around herself, she also encircled her American rivals Smith and Flickinger in the flag as they stood and posed for pictures.

“In 2015 I was a newborn and didn’t know anything. In 2016 at Rio I wanted to come in the top three but I didn’t expect it to be so tough,” she added.

Chinese netizens flocked to social messaging platforms to praise her, while local media lauded her achievements.


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