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Humble champion focuses on Nationals
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At first sight, the comparison is an easy one to make. Zhang Lin became the first Chinese men's swimmer to win gold; Liu Xiang brought China its first men's Olympic gold medal in track and field.

But where Liu exulted in joy after the race and stood tall in dramatic fashion on the podium in 2004, Zhang wept openly in the FINA World Championships in Rome last week. Liu has been a high-profile commodity, while Zhang said he wants to keep a simple life.

Upon arriving in Beijing yesterday, his quiet nature was evident. Though he said he prepared for "some attention" from the media and fans alike, he also admitted that he has been overwhelmed by the hero's welcome.

"I am shocked. I really didn't expect this," the 22-year-old told China Daily shortly after his flight from Rome, where he cruised to victory in the men's 800m freestyle last Wednesday.

In the race last week, the swimmer demolished Grant Hackett's world record in the 800m freestyle by six-and-a-half seconds.

The swimmer said he was extremely flattered by the media's comparisons to Liu Xiang as they call him "Liu in the swimming pool."

"That's a huge comparison (with Liu Xiang)," he said yesterday in a respectful tone. "At least I need an Olympic gold medal to catch him."

Raised in the outskirts of Beijing in a modest family upbringing, Zhang has been a quiet and humble person in the eyes of both his coach and his father, who is a staff member in a property management company.

"He is really hardworking and seldom gets satiated with what he has achieved," said coach Chen Yinghong.

And victory has not brought thoughts of celebration. In fact, the gold medalist said he has not even planned any celebrations at all.

"I just want to focus on my training," he said. "I want no distractions."

Zhang will now train for the upcoming the 11th National Games in November, where he will compete for the Beijing delegation.

Before last year's Olympic Games and the World Championships last week, Zhang traveled to Australia to train with the same coach who formerly worked with Hackett. The move helped the Chinese swimmer "carry on" the glory as a record holder.

"There is still the 1500m world record for me to conquer in the future," Zhang said yesterday.

Humble champion focuses on Nationals

He finished fifth in the 1500m in Rome, an event that he is stronger in and felt more pressure to win before the World Championships.

He also won the bronze in the men's 400m freestyle in Rome, after winning a silver at last year's Beijing Games.

"This is a brand-new start for me and our team. We are longing for more glory in the London [Olympics in 2012]."

Cui Dalin, the vice minister of General Administration of Sports of China, further upgraded the meaning of his success.

"Zhang Lin is undoubtedly the No 1 Chinese men's swimmer and the huge progress in swimming marks a step towards a real powerful sports country," he said during the welcome ceremony at the Beijing Capital Airport.

Though it's business as usual for Zhang, the outpouring of attention has been tremendous.

The number of visitors to his blog rose from under 70,000 before he clinched the gold to more than 1,000,000.

His victory enjoyed top billing on most news outlets, including CCTV, which rarely plays up sports as its top headlines.

(China Daily August 5, 2009)

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