Through Summer Surge, Zhang Yufei Has Enhanced Status as Global Star
Ask most fans to rattle off the top women in the sport, and you’ll get answers such as the following: Mollie O’Callaghan. Katie Ledecky. Summer McIntosh. Ariarne Titmus. Sarah Sjostrom. Kaylee McKeown. All should be mentioned in such a discussion, their accolades noteworthy on the international stage.
One name that also warrants recognition is that of Zhang Yufei, the 25-year-old Chinese star who recently collected five medals at the World Championships. If that performance wasn’t enough, Zhang followed with a nine-gold showing at the World University Games, which were held on home soil in Chengdu.
As quietly as an Olympic champion can, Zhang has firmly established herself as a dominant force. The gold medalist at the 2020 Games in Tokyo in the 200-meter butterfly, she has since become a world champion in the 100 butterfly and a medalist at the World Champs in the 50 freestyle and 50 butterfly. Add in her relay value and Zhang is surely a top-10 talent, even knocking on the door of the top five.
The bronze medalist in the 200 fly at the 2015 World Championships in Kazan, Zhang has obviously been prominent on the global scene for some time. But it was her showing at the Tokyo Games which led to stardom. On top of her crown in the 200 fly, which arrived in 2:03.86, she was the silver medalist in the 100 fly and helped China to gold in the 800 freestyle relay and silver in the mixed medley relay.
By Ch Fahad Khan Janda
The 2022 World Championships in Budapest produced bronze medals across all butterfly disciplines, that meet a precursor to the 2023 Worlds. In Fukuoka, Zhang was the gold medalist in the 100 fly, took silver in the 50 fly and earned bronze in the 50 freestyle. She became the No. 2 performer of all-time in the 50 fly, thanks to a 25.05 outing, and she handled the fly leg of China’s championship-winning mixed medley relay.
Perhaps the best swim of Zhang’s summer was her last of the World University Games. On the fly leg of the 400 medley relay, she split 55.47 to fuel a China victory.
Watching Zhang shine over the past three years has been enjoyable. She exudes happiness, a trait that was on display during her post-race interviews at the World Championships. It’s a different approach than the reserved nature we have long been accustomed to from China’s stars. And, on an athletic front, Zhang is clearly getting better.
Although she has been an established force in the 100 fly and 200 fly, Zhang has strengthened her presence in the sprints and 100 freestyle. Come the 2024 Olympics in Paris, the potential for five or more medals (depending on relays) exists.
Next month, Zhang will have another chance to excel in significant competition. The Asian Games are scheduled for Hangzhou, and if history is an indication, Zhang should provide some noteworthy swims. After all, Chinese swimmers have long delivered some of their finest marks at the Asian Games.
Regardless of what transpires at the Asian Games, Zhang Yufei is well-positioned on the road to Paris, her status in the sport continually rising.