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China takes centre stage at swimming world championships

China got their campaign up and running at swimming’s world championships on Monday, claiming two gold medals to banish the memory of a forgettable showing at last year’s competition.

The Chinese team won only one individual swimming gold last year in Budapest but they doubled that tally in the evening’s first two races in the southern Japanese city of Fukuoka.

Qin Haiyang got things started with victory in the men’s 100m breaststroke, taking advantage of dominant Olympic champion Adam Peaty’s absence from the competition.

Zhang Yufei followed that up with gold in the women’s 100m butterfly, beating Olympic champion Maggie MacNeil into second place in a field chock-full of talent.

“Last year the whole team didn’t perform very well, and we worked hard and tried 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.

Chinese swimmers didn’t have things all their own way, with Kate Douglass claiming the United States’ first gold of the championships and Italy’s Thomas Ceccon winning the men’s 50m butterfly.
Qin got the ball rolling when he coasted home in the 100m breaststroke, winning in 57.69sec in his first world championships final.

Italy’s defending champion Nicolo Martinenghi, American Nic Fink and Arno Kamminga of the Netherlands all tied for second on 58.72.

Britain’s Peaty, the world record-holder and twice Olympic champion in the event, skipped the competition to focus on his mental health.

Qin said it was “just the start” for him and set his sights on more gold in the 50m and 200m breaststroke.

“Tonight went the way I thought it would,” the 24-year-old said.

“I was 100 percent focused on my swim, because I thought if I did my best I could get the gold.

“Every little detail, every stroke, every turn I was concentrated,” he added.

– US on the board –

In the women’s 100m butterfly, Olympic silver-medallist Zhang finished first in 56.12sec, ahead of MacNeil on 56.45 and American Torri Huske on 56.61.

Australia’s Emma McKeon was fourth in a star-studded line-up, and Zhang said her opponents “gave me a lot of strength”.

“I hope in the future, especially next year at the Paris Olympics, we can race together to make the 100m butterfly the best race,” she said.

The US had made a slow start to the championships with no gold medals on the competition’s opening day.

Douglass put that right in the women’s 200m individual medley, beating compatriot Alex Walsh to win the title.

“I kind of knew going into the race that it was me or Alex on top getting a gold for the US,” said Douglass.

“That was what we were hoping for so it was awesome to be able to stand on the podium with her too.”

Defending champion Walsh led for most of the race but Douglass reeled her in over the last 50m to finish in a time of 2min, 07.17sec.

Walsh was second on 2:07.97, ahead of China’s Yu Yiting on 2:08.74.

Italy’s Ceccon claimed the other gold medal of the night in the men’s 50m butterfly.

He went into the race just 20 minutes after winning his 100m backstroke semi-final, but still touched the wall first in a time of 22.68sec.

“It’s really hard for me mentally and physically but today I did it,” said Ceccon, the reigning 100m backstroke world champion.

“I was not preparing for this 50m final, just for the 100m backstroke semi-final, and I just tried to pull through.”

Portugal’s Diogo de Matos Ribeiro was second on 22.80, ahead of France’s Maxime Grousset on 22.82.