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China’s swimming ace left wanting despite winning butterfly gold

Zhang Yufei’s (centre) time of 55.86s in the 100m butterfly event was only 0.38s slower than Sarah Sjostrom’s world record of 55.48s. (AFP pic)

HANGZHOU: World champion swimmer Zhang Yufei sent a major message to her Paris 2024 rivals today at the Asian Games, while Nepal smashed multiple records in cricket.

Hosts China lead the medals table with 76 golds, far ahead of South Korea (19) and Japan (15), after adding titles in a range of sports from artistic gymnastics and chess to beach volleyball and swimming.

The home nation and Zhang in particular have been in ominous form in the pool in Hangzhou, with the Paris Olympics coming up in just 10 months.

The 25-year-old Zhang clocked the fastest time of the year to easily win the 100m butterfly gold, then helped China to come within a whisker of shattering the 4x100m mixed medley relay world record.

Zhang, who has already claimed the 200m fly crown in Hangzhou to go with her Olympic gold, surged to the wall in a new Games-record 55.86s.

That beat the 56.12 that earned her the world title in July, but she was not happy.

“It doesn’t feel so good. This wasn’t the record I wanted, I wanted the world record,” she said.

“I was aiming for it because even if I couldn’t break it, I wanted to come close.”

Swedish great Sarah Sjostrom has held the world mark of 55.48s since the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Zhang suited up again for the relay, part of a powerhouse team featuring triple breaststroke world champion Qin Haiyang, backstroker Xu Jiayu, and freestyler Yang Junxuan.

They clocked 3:37.73s – the second fastest of all-time behind the UK’s 3:37.58s, set at the Tokyo Olympics two years ago.

China took home gold in four of the seven finals on the evening, with Japan (two) and South Korea (one) winning the others.

In hazy morning sunshine on day four of the Games, rampant Nepal rewrote the T20 international record books against bewildered part-timers Mongolia in a 273-run thumping in men’s cricket.

Nepal bludgeoned 314-3 in their 20 overs, beating the previous highest T20 men’s international innings of 278-3 by Afghanistan against Ireland in 2019.

Teenager Kushal Malla, batting No 3, spearheaded the onslaught by crashing the fastest T20 international century, off 34 balls.

Among the other records they racked up, Dipendra Singh Airee hit a scarcely believable eight sixes in an unbeaten 52 off 10 balls.

The powerful 23-year-old raced to his fifty off nine balls, another T20 world record and one that should stand in perpetuity because it is mathematically impossible to reach the landmark any quicker.

Nepal’s 26 sixes in the innings was also the best ever.

Mongolia, whose women’s team were bowled out for just 15 at the Asian Games last week, were dismissed for only 41 in 13.1 overs.

Much sterner tests await for Nepal, with India and Pakistan both in the draw.

In another gold rush for hosts China, they won the women’s and men’s street finals in skateboarding thanks to a couple of teenagers.

The 16-year-old Zhang Jie triumphed in the men’s event and Cui Chenxi, just 13, won the women’s.

But China did not have it all their own way as Japan won all three golds on offer on the day on the cycling track ahead of the hosts.

Japan sped to victory in men’s and women’s team pursuits, and in women’s keirin.

Japan’s Naoki Kojima said he and his teammates were celebrating well before they crossed the line in the men’s team pursuit.

“In the last three or four laps we knew that we’d win,” he said.

“I was behind my teammates and I was supposed to lead the last lap.”

“I checked the other riders and I knew we had enough power to win.”

“We were actually already celebrating during the last three or four laps.”

In other sports, Chinese table tennis legend Ma Long, 34, said he had almost certainly made his last Asian Games appearance after helping the hosts to the men’s team gold.

Asked about the prospect of defending his Olympic title next year, Ma said, “Paris is still too early to say for me.”