Chinese swimmer Ning Zetao made history in Kazan just last week by becoming the first Asian man ever to win the 100m freestyle gold medal at a FINA World Championships. Ning’s time of 47.84 marked another notch along the Chinese swimmer’s recent trend of dipping beneath the 48-second barrier, and the 22-year old did so even among the likes of Australian star Cameron McEvoy and American Nathan Adrian alongside him in the race.
To what can Ning attribute his success? Among other things, the new sprint sensation credits his relatively new relationship with Australian Coach Matt Brown. Brown, who was the longtime coach of this year’s world championship’s double backstroke gold medalist Emily Seebohm’s up until just a few months prior to Kazan, moved to Surrey Park Swimming Club where he now coaches a small Chinese contingency, including Ning.
Much like the situation involving Sun Yang being coached by Denis Cotterell and Brian King on Australian soil post-drug suspension, Ning also has to tread lightly training in the country due to his own doping conviction in 2011. Australia’s anti-doping guidelines dictate that convicted foreign dopers are prohibited from training at ‘podium centers’ within the nation. However, since Brown coaches out of Surrey Park Swimming Club, a non-podium training center, Swimming Australia holds no jurisdiction.
The situation is paying dividends for Ning, as he says his self-confidence has been boosted in the new training environment. “He is a very high-level coach”, Ning says of Brown, to which Brown responds, “I rate him [Ning] highly. He’s tough as a nail and so respectful.” Besides his gold medal in Kazan, Ning had previously first broken the 100m freestyle Asian record at last year’s Asian Games with his nation’s first sub-48 time (47.70) as well as was considered the critical leg in China’s gold medal-winning 4×100 freestyle relay at the meet.
Paralleling his rising fame in the pool is Ning’s popularity outside of the pool as well. According to Chinese media, Ning “has been dubbed ‘little fresh meat’ for his good-looking face.” As a result of his historic swim, his number of followers on social media site, Weibo, shot up to 1.1 million from just 10,000 prior to the world championships.