Chinese team set for Asian Games

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src=' ' class='caption'> The long-time rivalry between China and Japan will continue in the pool at the Asian Games in Doha, Qatar from December 1-15.

updated: February 25, 2007 11:37 IST
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To be better prepared for the battle with Japan for supremacy in the pool at the upcoming Asian Games in Doha, the Chinese swimming team have made some adjustments to their training programme. In order to have a similar climate environment as in Doha, the Chinese swimmers chose sub-tropical city Guangzhou in the south as their training base. It is said that some big names of Asian swimming are all out of the Games because they want to concentrate on next year's World Championships. These include Athens Olympic Games women's 800 metres freestyle champion Ai Shibata, veteran freestyle specialist Sachiko Yamada, Tomomi Morita in the men's backstroke and Hanae Ito in the women's backstroke. Old rivalry Japan have produced dazzling performances at the world-class competitions, winning three titles at the 2004 Olympic Games and three golds, eight silvers and 13 bronzes at the Pan Pacific Championships last August. China only snatched one gold in Athens by Luo Xuejuan in the women's 100m breaststroke. Luo will miss the Asian Games due to health reasons. In Busan four years ago, China crushed Japan 20-11 in the gold medal count, when the Chinese women proved the cream of the crop by winning 13 golds from 16 events on offer, while Japan claimed victories in eight men's and three women's disciplines. In Doha, the absences of the Japanese stars will give China a better chance of ruling the pool. China will send a 39-member mixed team of veterans and new faces, including defending champions Qi Hui, Zhou Yafei, Xu Yanwei, Wu Peng and a group of teenagers. Zhou Yafei, champion of the women's 100 metres butterfly in Busan is not just looking at the pool in Doha, her eyes are on a bigger pool, the one in Beijing for the 2008 Olympics. "The Asian Games is not our final goal, our final goal is Beijing Olympics. So it doesn't matter whether we will take the advantage or not in the Asian Games. Our aim is to improve our levels," she said. Not only Zhou, the Chinese swimmers have gradually been making adjustments to their training programmes to meet the challenges of the schedule changes in the swimming finals at the Beijing Games. New timetable The International Olympic Committee decided late last month to hold the swimming finals and much of the gymnastics at the Beijing Games in the morning, to the delight of American broadcasters. But the Europeans and Australians are opposed to the change. The Chinese want to be on top of the medals chart at their home Olympics in 2008, a goal that requires a strong effort in the pool. In swimming alone, 28 golds and 84 medals overall will be on the line in Beijing. In Guangzhou, Zhou and her team-mates have started training at 8:30 in the morning and most of the key training courses are gradually moving to the morning. It is a brand new routine of daily training, but Zhou thinks that the Chinese swimmers will be able to handle it. "I think that decision is one that is counter to the athletes' biological clock, and this is a issue that nobody can ignore. The athletes are more excited in the afternoon and evening. However, now that the IOC has made the decision, I think it is fair for all the swimmers in the world," added Zhou. Inconsistent performances The performances of the Chinese swimming team have been inconsistent in the past decade. After China's women -- known as the "Golden Flowers" -- won 12 golds at the 1994 World Championships, the country was involved in an embarrassing series of doping scandals. In all, 32 Chinese swimmers were caught for drug offences in the 1990s, two of them twice. Another three were disqualified from a domestic competition for having excessive red blood cell counts. Zhou, who broke two Asian records over 50 metres and 100 metres in the women's butterfly at the national championships in September, believes she and her team-mates have been swimming in a very clean pool in the past years. "If any foreigners blame us for drug abuse, our doping test result will be a big slap in their face. In recent years, we have been very clean, absolutely clean," added Zhou. Born in Qingdao, a seaside city in the east of China, Zhou started swimming at the age of four. She came to the spotlight after she claimed victory in the women's 100 meters butterfly at the Busan Asian Games, her first gold medal in a major competition. With a height of 1.79 metres, the biggest wish for this 23 year-old girl is to be standing tall on the winner's podium in Beijing in 2008.(AP)