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Silver gives Ye new hope for Tokyo gold

2019-07-26 13:22:00 Xinhuanet

A strong comeback at the worlds has rebounded former swimming prodigy Ye Shiwen from the brink of retirement, pushing her to go the extra mile en route to Tokyo 2020.

For any swimmer with two Olympic gold medals, settling for silver is far from satisfying. But after finishing runner-up in the women's 200m individual medley at the ongoing world championships in Gwangju, South Korea, Ye appeared even more excited than after she struck gold in the 200 and 400 IMs in her Olympic debut at London 2012.

That was to be expected, perhaps, for someone who endured a seven-year international medal drought before finishing 1.07 seconds behind winner Katinka Hosszu of Hungary in Monday's 200 final.

"It's been way too long ... long enough for me to almost give up the sport," Ye said after clocking 2:08.60. "Stepping onto the podium again after seven years, I have mixed feelings. I didn't realize until now that my heart has never left the pool. I belong to where I am standing right now."

After sweeping both IM events in London at age 16, with her 4:28.43 mark in the 400 setting a world record (since broken), Ye's career went into a nosedive as she battled depression, weight gain, insomnia and an ankle injury.

At the 2016 Rio Olympics, she finished a distant eighth in the 200 IM after crashing out in the 400 preliminaries. She failed to win any medals at the three long-course worlds from 2013-17, and her return to studies at Tsinghua University at the end of 2017 fueled speculation she was ready to call it a career.

Now, with Tokyo 2020 less than a year out, Ye's silver at the worlds has given her a timely confidence boost.

"I am still longing for Olympic gold, even though it seems it would take a miracle now," said the Zhejiang native. "After all the ups and downs, I am only 23 and the result at the worlds has cemented my comeback to medal contention. Why not try to make the miracle happen?"

Even with Ye resurging physically and mentally, the IM dominance of Hosszu, dubbed 'Iron Lady' for her exceptional ability in multiple strokes, highlighted by a golden sweep at Rio and dual titles at three straight worlds (2013-17), makes the Hungarian appear unbeatable.

Ye said she is open to switching to single-stroke events to seek new breakthroughs, and she has signed up for the 200m breaststroke at the worlds.

Fans caught a glimpse of Ye regaining top form in breaststroke when she clocked a career best 2:22.53 in the 200 at the national championships in April-the fifth fastest in the world at the time.

She won the 200 breaststroke and both IMs at the nationals and also shone at last month's Mission Viejo Swim Meet of Champions in California, where she won the 200m butterfly.

Citing the career of Italian veteran Federica Pellegrini, who at age 29 won the 200m freestyle at her seventh long-course worlds in 2017, Ye's long-time coach Xu Guoyi believes she can put her career back on course if she resets herself mentally.

"The campus life over a year offered her a shelter from all the doubts and gave her a break to recover physically and mentally," Xu said of Ye's college stint before returning to the national training camp at the end of 2018.

"I've always believed she has what it takes to prevail again at the highest stage. She just needs more time and drills to start believing in herself again."

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