China's Pan eyes Olympics after world freestyle triumph

By AFP   February 15, 2024 | 04:31 pm PT
China's Pan eyes Olympics after world freestyle triumph
Pan Zhanle competes at Asiad 19 in 2023 in China. Photo by Reuters
China's Pan Zhanle won the men's 100 meters freestyle title at the world championships in Doha on Thursday, establishing his status as one of the favorites for Olympic gold in five months' time.

The 19-year-old came home in 47.53sec, 0.19sec ahead of Italian Alessandro Miressi with Hungarian Nandor Nemeth third at 0.25.

It was a first individual medal at a world championship for Pan who should make his Olympic debut in Paris in July where he is likely to face fellow 19-year-old David Popovici of Romania, whose world record he bettered at the weekend, and the man whose world title he took, Australian Kyle Chalmers.

Both opted to miss the awkwardly-timed championships.

"I've prepared very well. I know this is just the beginning and I'm going to keep on working," Pan said during the poolside interview. "See you in Paris."

Pan set a new world record of 46.80sec leading off as China won the freestyle relay on Sunday after a blazing first lap of 22.26. This time he was more conservative, turning in 22.55, but was still in first, just ahead of Miressi.

Pan said he had been "a little bit stressed" ahead of his first individual final of the competition.

"The time was not very good," he said.

China closed the evening by collecting a second gold of the day in the women's 200m freestyle relay.

Li Bingjie, who had withdrawn from the individual final the night before after qualifying seventh, powered China from fifth to first on the third leg.

Yang Peiqi comfortably held off the British swimmers in the last leg.

China won in 7:47.26 with Britain 3.64 behind and Australia third.

In the evening's opening final, Britain's Laura Stephens went to the front early in the women's 200 butterfly and won in 2min 07.35sec, holding off a late challenge from Denmark's Helena Rosendahl Bach who finished 0.09sec back. Lana Pudar of Bosnia was third.

Claire Curzan won her second individual backstroke gold in Doha as she added the 50m title to her 100m crown.

The podium on Thursday was the same as in the 100m, the 19-year-old American winning the sprint in 27.43, out-touching Australian Iona Anderson by 0.02.

"You can't even measure that," said Curzan. "It's crazy it comes down to that"

"It's a 50 so you just got to have fun," said Curzan. "It's who has the stars aligned for them that night, so I was lucky."

Ingrid Wilm of Canada was third.

Canadian Finlay Knox surged through on the final lap to take the men's 200m medley in 1:56.64, 0.33sec ahead of American Carson Foster with Italian Alberto Razzetti third.

The winning time would not have won a medal in either of the last two World Championships, but Frenchman Leon Marchand, who won both, is skipping Doha ahead of his home Olympics.

"There are quite a few big names that weren't in the field tonight. It gave me the opportunity to step up and shine," said Knox.

"Very happy to be in the spotlight tonight but in the back of my mind I know there are some faster swimmers out there, which keeps me hungry."

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