Swimming Hero Makes a Splash on Return

Swimming sensation Zhang Jian received a hero's welcome in Beijing Monday after his record-breaking swim across the English Channel.

Zhang received flowers from well-wishers at the Beijing Capital International Airport to mark his epic achievement in crossing the 33.8-kilometre stretch of water on July 30. "I will continue to devote myself to China's sports, especially triathlon development and other newly-emerging sports,'' Zhang said.

He said the swim had been the final goal of his adventures.

More than 100 people gathered at the airport to meet him, among whom were local officials and members of his family.

The 38-year-old swimmer stressed that it was the support of people from all walks of life that encouraged him to finish the 12-hour trip.

Zhang specially expressed his gratitude to the overseas Chinese people and the Chinese embassy in Britain for their help.

A teacher at the Beijing University of Physical Education, Zhang is the secretary-general of the Beijing Triathlon Association.

He swam across the Qiongzhou Straits in 1988 and the Bohai Straits in 2000, setting a world record for the longest distance completed when swimming across straits.

It is said Zhang will challenge China's biggest lake at the entrance to a volcano, Tianchi Lake at the Changbai Mountain in Northeast China's Jilin Province, in September.

Tianchi is famous for its low temperature of 7 C and high elevation of 2,190 metres.

But Zhang said preparations were not ready for this challenge.

The swimmer declined to comment on the fact that a 28-year-old physician from London, Alex Ramsden, took less than 10 hours to finish swimming across the channel recently.

"It is not a mere problem of speed,'' he said.

It is believed that more than 800 people in the world have swum across the English Channel.

Zhang's accomplishments have been greeted with a great response from people of all walks of life and foreigners in China.

"Zhang's challenge to the reach the highest possible achievements of mankind should be an example of all athletes,'' said a congratulatory letter from the All-China Sports Federation.

"I was delighted to see Zhang emerge from the sea that day after a successful crossing. I warmly congratulate him on his achievement, and I am pleased that British swimmers and supporters helped him reach his goal,'' said Nigel Cox, Britain's Charge d' Affairs in Beijing.

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