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Top Chinese swimmer Zhang wins historical Olympic silver
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15:28, August 10, 2008

The tight-lipped swimmer Zhang Lin pointed one finger upwards after he finished an eight-lap race. The "No. 1 place" may be what he wanted for his "home Olympics".

The 21-year-old Beijing native won the silver of men's 400 meters freestyle in 3:42.44 here on Sunday, only 0.58 seconds slower than gold medalist South Korean Park Taehwan.

"I didn't know Park was in the lead towards the end of the race," he said, "had I swum in neighboring lanes with Park, I would have started charging earlier and the final result would not be the same."

A Beijing native, Zhang wore a red-cap, meaning good luck, in his races. He entered the final as the second fastest from the heats. His heat time of 3:43.32 was also a new Asian record until it was shattered by Park in the final.

"Zhang is a silent boy, but his goals are very clear. He wanted a gold medal," said former teammate Chao Na, an Atlanta relay silver medallist.

Although Zhang considered himself eligible for more, his Olympic silver medal was the best Games efforts for Chinese male swimmers. The former best was the fourth achieved by Shanghai swimmer Jiang Chengji 12 years ago in Atlanta.

"This (silver medal) was a good start and I hope the other swimmers can also have good results in the coming races," he said.

Before the Games started, Zhang was poised to make some big splashes. In Athens, he swam in the heats of 200 and 400 free, but didn't enter the finals. "Athens was a memory of miracle for others, but sadness for me. I had hoped to enter the finals," he recalled.

The 2007 World Championships also repeated the nightmare for him.

Starting from the end of last year, Zhang decided to train abroad. He was mentored by Australian Denis Cotterell, former coach of long distance star swimmer Grant Hackett.

"Zhang is improving and working very hard for the best result and I hope for the best result for him," said Cotterell, before the race.

With a new training scheme, Zhang began to rise out of anonymity to be China's top freestyler. In months leading to the Games, Zhang broke the 400 meters freestyle record twice.

His growing strength pushed him to challenge Hackett, a man once he idolized. Hackett slacked out at the 400 free, and was held off at the 6th.

"I was in awe when I first trained with Hackett in the same pool last year," he recalled.

"It was a Saturday morning. I didn't recognize him until my coach told me. Being a decorated Olympic champion, Hackett still trained very hard. It was a memorable day," Zhang said.

Zhang will also be a strong contender in the 1500 meters free, in which Hackett holds the world record and now seeks a third consecutive Olympic gold.


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