With two gold medals in the space of a few minutes, China launched its World Swimming Championships with a bang on Monday in Fukuoka (Japan), overshadowing the disappointing performance of its swimmers last year. China won only one individual title in the Budapest pool last summer but have already doubled that total on the second day of competition in southwestern Japan.
Qin Haiyang got the evening off to a flying start with a victory in the men's 100m breaststroke, taking advantage of the absence of Olympic champion Adam Peaty who has skipped competition to nurse his mental health. Behind him, the battle for the podium was extremely close as three swimmers climbed to second place in the same time (58.72): Italian Nicolo Martinenghi, Dutchman Arno Kamminga and American Nic Fink. Qin has set himself the goal of expanding his collection of gold charms in the 50m and 200m breaststroke. "Tonight went as I thought it would," said the 24-year-old swimmer. "This is just the beginning for me."
Barely ten minutes later, Zhang Yufei followed up with gold in the women's 100m butterfly, beating Olympic champion, Canadian Maggie MacNeil. "Last year the team didn't perform very well so we worked hard to try to be ready for these championships," Zhang said. “We learned from last year. It was an opportunity for us. Hopefully we can get more gold medals in the next six days,” she added.
Zhang, a silver medalist at the Tokyo Olympics, finished in 56.12, ahead of MacNeil in 56.45 and American Torri Huske in 56.61, while Australian Emma McKeon finished just off the podium after a high level race. The Chinese said her opponents gave her “a lot of strength. I hope that in the future, especially next year at the Paris Olympics, we can run together to make the 100m butterfly the best race.
The United States for their part had started these Japanese Worlds timidly, not winning any gold medal on the first day of competition. Kate Douglass corrected this anomaly by opening the American counter with her victory in the final of the 200m medley. She beat her compatriot Alex Walsh to win in 2'07''17. "I knew before the race that it would be me or Alex who would win gold for the United States," Douglass said. "That's what we were hoping for so it's great to be on the podium with her." Walsh, the defending champion, led for most of the race, but was caught by Douglass in the final 50 yards.
Finally the Italian Thomas Ceccon was the strongest in the 50m butterfly. He won gold just 20 minutes after winning his 100m backstroke semi-final. "It was really tough for me mentally and physically, but today I pulled it off," said Ceccon, the reigning 100m backstroke world champion. "I hadn't prepared for that 50m final, only for the 100m backstroke semi-final, and I just tried to get through it." Portuguese Diogo Matos Ribeiro took the silver medal in 22.80, ahead of Frenchman Maxime Grousset in 22.82.