While the proud father of new Chinese swimming sensation Zhang Lin revealed he had no idea his son was capable of winning gold yesterday, his "surrogate" mother in Australia had every belief in him.
After moving to Australia with Zhang in late 2007 to train with Denis Cotterell (the former coach of Australian great Grant Hackett), coach Chen Yinghong devoted her life to the swimmer. She said she treated Zhang as if he were her own son.
"I took care of everything for him on a daily basis in Australia," Chen said. "He's brilliant and I'm so proud of him. We were coming to win gold and we did it.
Even Chen's own teenage son would be jealous of the swimmer.
"My son is 14 and he doesn't get this same kind of treatment," Chen joked.
Zhang, a Beijing-born swimmer, obliterated Hackett's world record to capture the men's 800m freestyle in Rome Wednesday and become China's first male world champion in swimming.
But Chen's care of Zhang allowed the swimmer to dig into his potential while training in Australia.
"Zhang is very disciplined and he did what I told him to do during training. He's a good 'son' to me," she said.
After the victory, Zhang's father could not stop weeping and said the hard work his son put into his training finally paid off.
"To tell you the truth, we did not expect him to win and break the world record," said Zhang's tearful father Zhang Zhongquan. "He spent most of his time abroad and it wasn't easy for him and his coach for such a long time.
"Now after years of hard work, he finally did it."
Zhang's breakthrough was hailed as a landmark in Chinese men's swimming by retired national team head coach Zhang Yadong. The coach of former world record holder and Olympic gold medalist Luo Xuejuan, a female swimmer, Zhang said that Wednesday's victory was a "giant step forward for China men's swimming."
The coach said Zhang is capable of repeating the feat in the 1,500m on Sunday and made some bold predictions.
"The win in 800m set a solid foundation for his competition in the 1,500m. The event has been his major event during his training in Australia. So I think he will probably win the gold in the event as well as break the world record again."
Zhang's swim was replayed throughout the day on China Central Television's sports channel, while Internet news sites were awash with the 22-year-old's achievement.
Some media outlets even compared him to icons Yao Ming and Liu Xiang.
Liu was the first-ever Chinese man to win an Olympic gold medal on the track, while Yao is an all-star center in the National Basketball Association.
(China Daily July 31, 2009)