To meet the challenge of the upcoming World Aquatics Championships in Gwangju, South Korea, and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, China has built a national artistic swimming team that includes comebacking star Huang Xuechen.
The return of the 29-year-old veteran, who won medals in three straight Olympics (Beijing 2008, London 2012 and Rio de Janeiro 2016) was officially announced at Wednesday's media conference for the National Artistic Swimming Championships and FINA Artistic Swimming World Series China Open.
The two events will be held simultaneously from May 4-6 at the National Olympic Sports Center in Beijing.
The China Open, the fifth stop of this year's World Series, will feature more than 120 of the world's finest artistic swimmers from 11 countries, including powerhouses Canada, Russia and Ukraine, while the national championships will showcase 111 of China's elite swimmers from eight provinces and municipalities.
As a growing global contender that won its first artistic swimming gold medal at the 2017 FINA World Championships, China started a winter training program in January for 14 of the nation's best.
"Team China will have a brand new look this year at the world championships and for the Tokyo Olympics," said Zhao Jian, deputy director of the swimming administrative center of the General Administration of Sport of China.
"Through a very strict selection process, the new Team China boasts a combination of veterans and young talent. Especially, we welcome the return of the experienced Huang Xuechen."
After winning three silver medals and two bronze at her three Olympics, Huang walked away from the pool after the Rio Games and last year became a mother.
She said returning to competition was not an easy decision-particularly because it involved serious weight loss.
"Believe it or not, I have lost 30 kilograms since giving birth to my daughter," said Huang who will not participate in the China Open but will return to international competition after the May meet.
"The road back to the national team was very tough for me. Losing weight was not an easy task, so I really want to thank the medical team and trainers who helped me a lot during the process.
"The idea of coming back was not a certainty, but the national team needed an experienced veteran at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. I wanted to give it a shot and the leaders in the team also supported me.
"There are several other swimmers on the national team who have Olympics and Asian Games' experience, along with a growing number of younger swimmers who are in great condition."
The downside of Huang's return is that it has reduced the amount of time she can spend with her family.
"The decision had to be supported by my family or it would be a huge problem," she said.
"Now my husband, my mother and my mother-in-law take turns caring for the baby.
"She's usually asleep by the time I finish my training every day, but I try to see her for a few minutes on a video chat."
Meanwhile, head coach Wang Jie is confident the host team will have a good showing at the China Open even without Huang in the lineup.
"The winter training program was very tough, comprehensive and solid," said Wang. "We want to have a great start at the China Open to better prepare for the world championships and the Olympics.
"At the China Open, we will once again use the theme of Master and Commander that we used when we won the 2017 world championships. Also we prepared a second show called Chasing the Dream, which will be a perfect match for our ambition to stand on the highest podium."
(Source: China Daily)