Swimming: New wave of China to take on world

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

CHINA'S new generation of women swimmers threaten to overcome their rivals at the World Championships in Rome. Diving and women's water polo open the 11-day action today, with the preliminary rounds of the men's one-metre springboard and women's highboard the first diving events in the Foro Italico.

China won four of the six diving titles at the last World Championships in Perth in 1991, and Fu Mingxia and Sun Shuwei are back to defend the women's and men's highboard titles they captured at the ages of 12 and 14 respectively.

But the women dubbed the 'Golden Flowers', who brought China their first four world championship titles in 1991 and their first four Olympic golds in 1992, have been supplanted by new names. The newcomers, most of whom made their international mark at the inaugural World Short-course Championships in Palma de Mallorca last December, could prove even more devastating than their predecessors when the swimming gets under way on Monday.

They field the swimmers with the fastest entry times in eight of the 13 women's individual events and few rivals look capable of withstanding them.

Even Hungary's Krisztina Egerszegi, an Olympic gold medallist at 14 in 1988 and unbeatable in backstroke since winning the 100 metres and 200m titles at the 1991 World Championships, looks vulnerable. This week her coach, Laszlo Kiss, said this that her training had been limited for the past two months after a bad bout of flu.

Egerszegi, triple Olympic champion in 1992, won four golds at the 1993 European Championships - 100m and 200m backstroke, 200m butterfly and 400m individual medley - but will contest only the backstroke events in Rome. Kiss feels she should retain her 200m backstroke crown. But, in the 100m, she faces China's He Cihong, who is fastest in the world this year and very close to Egerszegi's world record.

Le Jingyi, short-course world champion at 50m and 100m freestyle, leads the way in the 50m but Lu Bin has the edge in the 100m and 200m freestyle and is also the fastest entrant in the 200m individual medley. Dai Guohong, who set four short-course world marks in Palma, rules in the 400m individual medley. The Chinese look invincible in the women's butterfly, with Liu Limin a shade faster than Qu Yun in the 100m and the order reversed in the 200m.

Zhou Guanbin is China's threat to Janet Evans, the Olympic 800m freestyle champion, as the American defends her 400m and 800m world crowns.