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Tuesday, July 31, 2001, updated at 07:43(GMT+8)

Zhang Jian Hailed as Hero After his English Channel Swimming

Zhang Jian, the first Chinese to have swum the English Channel, was hailed as hero back home.

The Beijing municipal government sent a message of congratulation to him, citing that his success brought glory and honour to the city.

The message, which was printed in today's Beijing Daily, also said:"The city government hopes all city residents will study Zhang Jian's heroic spirit of daring to blaze new trails, disregarding difficulties and dangers, and bravely forging ahead, and his down-to-earth, careful and realistic scientific attitude, so as to push forward Beijing's modernization."

The congratulation was echoed by British people living in Beijing. Britain's Charge d'Affaires in Beijing, Nigel Cox, said: "I was delighted to see Zhang emerge from the sea today after a successful crossing. I warmly congratulate him on his achievement, and am pleased that British swimmers and supporters were able to help him reach his goal.

"British sportsmen are famous for their sense of adventure and desire to pit themselves against the hardest challenges - that is how the tradition of swimming across the English channel began. I' m sure there are lots of British people who admire Zhang Jian for his spirited swim."

"I also hope Zhang's swim will strengthen the growth in sporting links between Britain and China. There is already strong Chinese interest in British football and tennis, and just now two hundred of Britain's best young athletes are making their final preparations for the World University Games in Beijing next month. I am pleased to say Britain will have one of the largest teams at these Games," he said.

A British Embassy source said that Zhang's time for the crossing - just under 12 hours - was remarkably fast for a first attempt, and showed he must be very fit and have prepared himself well.

Zhang, 37, started at 6:30 Sunday morning from Dover's Shakespeare Cliff and landed at Calai beach of the French side at 6:26 in the afternoon guided by a boat piloted by Duncan Taylor, general secretary of the English Channel Association.

The physical education teacher gained national fame and set a world record last after swimming across the 109-kilometer Bohai Straits last August.

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Zhang Jian, the first Chinese to have swum the English Channel, was hailed as hero back home.

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