Meet the Chinese swimmer who won two golds in one hour

Zhang Yufei

A Chinese athlete will go down in the country’s history as the first to have won two gold medals in swimming within an hour at the Olympics.

Breaking records: Zhang Yufei, 23, won her first gold in the 200-meter butterfly on Thursday morning. About an hour later, she bagged her second gold after helping the women’s team in the 200-meter freestyle relay.

  • Zhang clocked two minutes and 3.86 seconds in the 200-meter butterfly. It’s the fastest time any woman has produced in the event since Oct. 21, 2009, when her compatriot Liu Zige produced a world record of two minutes and 1.81 seconds, according to People’s Daily.
  • The 23-year-old admitted to being nervous ahead of the event. “Before the 200-meter butterfly I really wanted this medal but I felt more nervous about it,” she told reporters. “Before the race, my coach told me, ‘You don’t need to think too much… Be yourself and the result may even exceed expectations.’”

  • Zhang then joined Li Bingjie, Tang Muhan and Yang Junxuan in the 4×200 freestyle relay. They clocked seven minutes and 40.33 seconds, beating the U.S. and Australia, setting a world record.
  • Zhang, however, did not know she would compete in the relay until the team’s coach told her after her individual victory. Li said all members knew that Zhang would be included, but “the coach told us not to tell her,” according to AP News.
  • Zhang said she did not even know how to swim the 200-meter freestyle, but she has the “training qualities and levels for 200-meter distances.” She believes her performance at the Chinese National Championships made her a viable addition to the team, the South China Morning Post noted.

Background: Born in the city of Xuzhou in Jiangsu province, Zhang is known in China as the “Butterfly Queen.” Prior to Thursday’s double gold, she also won a silver in the 100-meter butterfly, taking just 0.05 seconds longer than Canada’s Margaret MacNeil.

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  • Zhang finished sixth in Rio in 2016. She earned the nickname “Butterfly Queen” after dominating the 2018 Asian Games with three golds and a silver.
  • The 23-year-old was born with a minor case of scoliosis, which was diagnosed in 2015. “Fortunately, it has been improved through training and medical assistance,” she said, according to People’s Daily.
  • Despite her condition, Zhang has been swimming since childhood. The sport runs in her blood as both her parents were swimming coaches, according to Global Times.
  • Zhang’s mother said they saw her potential at age 3 and started training her at age 5. Zhang’s father died when she was 4, but it had only made her more determined to become a swimmer.
  • “My daughter has always been a very independent person,” her mother told reporters, according to China Daily. “I remember one time her legs were injured with seven or eight stitches, but she never told me. It was the team doctor who informed me in the end. Then I called her, but she just laughed it off on the phone, telling me it’s all OK and that it didn’t hurt at all.”

Featured Image Screenshots via beIN SPORTS Asia (left, right)

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