Rising 15-year-old Chinese swimming star Li Bingjie has set a goal: to surpass brilliant US freestyler Katie Ledecky at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Li, born in 2002 in North China's Hebei province, won the gold in the women's 200 meter freestyle and women's 800 meter freestyle at the TYR Pro Swim Series in Austin, Texas, which kicked off on Friday.
The Ledecky-esque Chinese swimmer rose to fame after winning a bronze medal in the women's 400 meter freestyle at her maiden 2017 FINA World Championships in Budapest, which marked the first time since 1998 that a Chinese swimmer had reached the podium.
Li also scooped up two silvers in the women's 800 meter freestyle and women's 4 × 200 meter freestyle relay in Budapest. It's worth noting that Li's score in the women's 800 meter freestyle was 8:15.46, which broke the Asian record.
The victories won the young woman much praise as a talented swimmer and a "female Sun Yang", referring to the Chinese Olympic gold medalist. But Li said, "I still have a long way to go before realizing the big dream in my inner heart."
Li's talent in the water is something she inherited from her parents. Li Jian, Li's father, once won the national champion in the men's 800 meter freestyle, and Li's mother, Wang Wei, was a renowned athlete in middle-distance freestyle and long-distance freestyle.
"When my daughter was younger than two years old, we often took her to play in the swimming pool. She was very excited in the pool and always spent half a day there," said Li Jian.
Li was taken to Xinshichang Primary School, which is famous for its swimming education, in Baoding city, North China's Hebei province, when she was six years old. The little girl wasn't satisfied with daily noon training in school and used to swim after school each day.
Though Li's parents knew how much an athlete will endure, they didn't want their little girl to grow up to be a professional swimmer, Li attracted the attention of Liu Haibo, a national swimming team coach, by entering the semi-finals or finals at many swimming events in Hebei province's sports meeting in 2014.
"Li is good in using the water and has high stroke frequency and good endurance. She has great potential in middle-distance freestyle and long-distance freestyle," Liu said.
Changing from backstroke and medley swimming to freestyle, Li showed her strength on freestyle very soon, and became a member of the national swimming team.
Training became more and more intense, but Li never gave up the training.
"It's indeed tiring, but I don't want to go back, and I have to be a good swimmer," Li said in response to her father's suggestion that she can return home. if she feels tired.
At the first national youths sports meeting in 2015, Li, the youngest participant, won her first champion in the women's 400 meter freestyle.
The road to fame is a long and hard way to travel. And the young star failed in the qualifier for the Rio Olympics in 2016. Fortunately, the young freestyler overcame the setback and regained her confidence after participating in more competitions.
In 2016, Li won the gold medal at her Asian Championships debut, and in 2017, she got two gold medals and one silver at the national championships. It's notable that her score in the women's 400 meter freestyle is just 0.17 second slower than the Asian record.
The young swimmer now has two silver medals and one bronze from the 2017 FINA World Championships in Budapest. To prepare for the competitions, Li swam 14,000 meters to 15,000 meters every day and never complained.
"Everyone swims, so I can only work harder to get better results," said Li.
After the world championships, Li went on to prepare for the National Games, while other athletes while other athletes rested and recovered their energy and strength. Even during the Games, Li swims 14,000 meters each day.
The motive behind this might be Li's heart-felt dream to surpass brilliant US freestyler Katie Ledecky, challenge the world record and win a gold medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Li won the Best Newcomer Award at the 2017 Laureus China Top 10 Athletes Awards held in Beijing on Dec 20.
Winning more honors in her sport are among her goals for 2018. "I hope I can win more gold medals and break my records in the 2018 Jakarta Asian Games," Li said.
(Source: China Daily)