Shanghaiist found itself out at the Qi Zhong Tennis Stadium yesterday, clutching a media pass for the final day of competition in the FINA 8th World Short Course Swimming Championships. Outside, the rain pelted down in sheets and the parking lots were awash with water. This seemed rather apt, considering that the organizers had taken the ATP Masters tennis court and turned it into a 25-metre pool. If only they’d turned the forlorn “Media Snacks Centre” into a Burger King.
Swimming can be a dull pursuit. But how about watching world-class athletes power up and down a lane in search of a world record, churning up the water, being vociferously cheered on by compatriots waving flags? Marginally less so. The short course doesn’t help things: it’s almost impossible to get a bearing on who is winning because the swimmers only spend about 12 seconds on each lap. There’s a whole lot of turning, and a lot of time spent under the water.
Still, the atmosphere in the stadium was animated, if not electric. With the weather so foul, we expected very few people to make the effort to get out to Qi Zhong, but there were several thousand in attendance (including a very vocal Dutch contingent decked out in orange). Highlights of the night included a scorching world record by American Ryan Lochte, who won the men’s 200m backstroke in 1 minute 49.05 seconds. And China had its best night of the competition, winning three gold medals. One of these races took place as Shanghaiist was sitting at a bank of computers in the media room (where many local reporters were playing Counter Strike), and the roar of the crowd made it quite clear what had happened. Unless, of course, it was the excited roar of another journalist opening their Media Gift Bag to find a box of “Beauideal Herbal Hall The Treasure Of Mouth Guard Propolis Candy.”
For the record, Australia topped both the gold medal and overall medal standings, with 12 gold, nine silver and seven bronze (28 medals). For this result they owe a lot to an awesome display by Libby Lenton (pictured) whose personal haul of five gold and one silver came just weeks after she picked up five gold and two silver at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. Lenton gets extra marks for giving the friendliest press conference in the world of sport.
The US came second (6-7-7), followed by China (5-1-6). Shanghaiist was less successful, managing to slice open a finger on the metal spokes of the complimentary umbrella which came in the aforementioned Media Gift Bag, and bleed for the duration of the 80-renminbi taxi ride back to the city.