Liu Xiang wins gold for China in women’s 50m freestyle at the FINA Champions Swim Series Jan 18, 2020. [Photo/Xinhua]

Chinese pool star sounds warning to Olympic rivals by setting new Asian mark in Beijing

China’s “swimming goddess” Liu Xiang cemented her status as an Olympic gold-medal contender by setting a new Asian record over the weekend.

The elite-field FINA Champions Swim Series concluded its Beijing leg on Sunday with Liu stealing the show by shaving one hundredth of a second of her own 50m freestyle continental mark.

The 23-year-old touched first in 24.03 ahead of London 2012 Olympic champion Ranomi Kromowidjojo of the Netherlands (24.38) and compatriot Femke Heemskerk (24.79) at the Olympic Center Natatorium in the capital.

The performance capped a superb week for Liu, who also won Saturday’s 50m backstroke and the same two races at the series’ opening leg in Shenzhen last Tuesday and Wednesday.

“I didn’t expect to break the record now as I am way off my best condition physically midway through the winter training program,” Liu said in disbelief.

“I thought my old record was already the best I could do. Swimming faster today really helps get my confidence back and rekindles my hopes for the Tokyo Olympics,” said Liu, who set her first Asian mark (24.04) at the 2017 National Games in Tianjin.

Liu’s 50m free time-which surpasses Australian Cate Campbell’s previous season-leading mark of 24.08-would’ve been good enough for victory at last year’s FINA World Championships, where Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom clocked 24.26 to win gold and Liu failed to even reach the final.