Friday, September 12, 2008

Swimming: Erin Popovich claims fourth gold, China wins thrilling relays

The National Aquatic Center, better known as the Water Cube, witnessed another miracle after Michael Phelps' haul of eight Olympic gold medals last month, as his fellow American Erin Popovich won her fourth gold at the Paralympics here on Thursday.

Four events, four gold medals. Popovich's huge success highlighted the action-packed night.

The 23-year-old, who stands 1.34 meters tall, touched the wall first with a new Paralympic-record time of five minutes 17.41 seconds in the women's S7 400m freestyle, beating her compatriot Cortney Jordan by 3.60 seconds.

It was Popovich's fourth straight wins after she claimed titles in 200m individual medley SM7, 100m freestyle S7 and 100m breaststroke SB7.

"I didn't believe I could break 5:20, it was a huge success for me. I also wanted to thank Cortney. She kept the moment up and pushed me to get the whole race. Anyway, I'm very excited," said the winner.

On her victory, Popovich said there was no secret weapon.

"In the morning's heat, I just wanted to go out, made everything comfortable and smooth so that I can push harder in the night.

"My victory is due to a lot of hard work, just it. I have to get the right preparation and did everything that I need to do before every race," she said.

Elsewhere, the closest race of the day came in men's 4X50m freestyle relay. After losing in Wednesday's 4X100m freestyle relay, China's quartet rallied to win their first team event with a strong spurt in the final lap.

When anchor Yang Yuanrun jumped into the pool, he was five meters behind Spanish counterpart. But Yang made a desperate chase with his powerful and speedy stroke, rocketing to catch up with the Spanish at the final 25 meters point.

"I just thought I must breathe as less as I could. Because it's a team event and I cannot let my teammates down. So I let the pressure all behind me when I'm in the water and just tried to swim my best. I only made two breaths and the result paid off." said Yang.

Yang's amazing splash in the final 25 meter paced him to overtake the lead and out-touched the Spanish by 0.58 seconds.

Yang touched the wall, took off his glasses, gazed at the scoreboard, but still couldn't believe his eyes.

2:18.15! A shocking 3.74-second shave off the previous world mark. Yang waved his only right hand, punched the water and shouted to the roof of the 9000-attendance Water Cube.

"It's the power of unity. It's the teamwork fight. We have the same belief and we deserve the victory," said handless third leg He Junquan, with tears welling up in his bloodshot eyes.

The Water Cube witnessed 11 world records fall throughout the day.

Among them, in the men's 400m freestyle S7, Britain's David Roberts, who qualified for the final in a fastest 5:04.31, took the winning time further down to 4:52.35 and took 1.40 seconds off the former world mark, which stood unchallenged for eight years.

Brazil's Daniel Dias, who won three golds in his past five events, clinched his fourth in men's 200m individual medley SM5 and set a new world mark in 2:52.60, bettering the hosts' favorite He Junquan in 8.32 seconds.

Natalie Du Toit, the South Africa's hero who swam in last month's Olympics, won the women's 200m individual medley SM9 with a record-time of 2:27.83, chopping a further 2.09 seconds off her former mark set in 2005. It was Du Toit's third gold after three-event show and she had two races left.

After five days of competition, the United States led the swimming tally with 13 golds, followed by Britain with seven and Australia with six. Host China stood ninth with three.

The Beijing Paralympic swimming competition has attracted 560 athletes to its 81 men's and 59 women's events. The nine-day contest runs from September 7 to 15.

Source: Xinhua

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