Liu sets world record; Sun and Ikee keep collecting gold
JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Liu Xiang set her first world record in an event she was only doing for a bit of fun.
The 21-year-old prefers freestyle sprinting so she was very surprised when she heard the public announcer at the Asian Games yelling out the two sweetest words that every international swimmer understands regardless of their language.
And when she turned around to check the electronic scoreboard she saw that it was her who had just broken the world record for the women’s 50-meters backstroke.
She had powered down the pool in a slick 26.98 seconds to take 0.08 off the previous record of 27.06, which was set by China’s Zhao Jing at the 2009 world championships in Rome when swimmers were aided by the now-banned buoyant suits.
“The 50-meter backstroke wasn’t my major event, so I didn’t expect anything from the race,” Liu said. “My main focus is actually the 50 freestyle,”
“I think I was really concentrated on myself today. This was the key.”
The 50 backstroke is not on the Olympic schedule and Liu still has the 50 freestyle to come Friday, so she planned to hold the celebrations for later.
“The bigger assignment coming up for me is the freestyle,” she said. “After that I will celebrate with the team together. It’s still kind of an achievement in swimming.”
Liu also managed to do something else no other swimmer has managed so far at the Asian Games by taking the spotlight from her star teammate Sun Yang and Japanese teenager Rikako Ikee. Sun cruised to a dominant victory in the men’s 400 freestyle in 3 minutes, 42.92 seconds, more than two and half seconds off his personal best but still 4.22 ahead of his nearest rival.
“My coach told me before the race tonight: ‘You are the reigning world champion and reigning Olympic gold medalist, you need to prove again you are the best in this event,’” Sun said of his motivation. “That was his expectation.”
He’s now three-quarters of the way to an unprecedented four freestyle titles, having already won the 200 and 800. Only the 1,500 remains and as the reigning Asian games champion and world-record holder, it would be an upset for him to be beaten.
At age 26 and with three Olympic gold medals already, Sun shows no signs of slowing down. He is doing plenty of miles in training to keep up with the expectations of the more than one billion people in China.
“I’m training very, very hard for Tokyo 2020,” he said.
Ikee picked up her fourth gold medal in Jakarta when she won the women’s 100 butterfly in 56.30 but the 18-year-old blotted her perfect record when she collected silver in the 4x200-meter freestyle relay.
“It will be my motivation to win gold medals as much as I can by competing against Chinese swimmers, so I don’t have much races left, but I will use all my strength that is left for this season,” Ikee said. “Next Olympics will be held in Japan, so I will focus only on winning.”
With three events to go, she remains on course to becoming the most successful athlete in any sport at a single Asian Games. Kosuke Hagino won seven medals at Incheon four years ago.
The Asian Games has awarded an MVP award since 1998. No woman has ever won the prize before but Ikee could be about to change all that.
Yu Hexin, the 2014 Youth Olympic champion, won the men’s 50 freestyle in 22.11 as China edged 11-10 in front of Japan for gold medals in swimming in the first three days of competition.
Yuo Ohashi, the silver medalist at last world championships, won the women’s 400 individual medley in 4:34.58. Yasuhiro Koseki, also a runner-up in Budapest last year, edged his Japan teammate Ippei Watanabe to win the men’s 200 breaststroke in 2:07.81.