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ABU DHABI — China's swimming is racing along the right track thanks to the use of advanced training methods, says United States swimming legend Mark Spitz.
Spitz, who claimed nine Olympic gold medals during his stellar career, including seven at the 1972 Munich Olympics, says has kept a close eye on the rise of Chinese swimming.
"The Chinese swimmers have had a tremendous amount of success since the 1980s, especially the women over the past few decades. I think it has a lot to do with experimenting with the western coaching way," said Spitz, who attended the 2011 Laureus World Sports Awards gala ceremony as an academy member.
"I think it really helps when China sends swimmers abroad to learn and observe how they (the foreign athletes) train. And it's also important for the coaches to go out to share information training methods," said Spitz.
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China's swimming began to flourish from its overseas training program when Zhang Lin won the 400m freestyle silver medal at the Beijing Olympics after months of working with Denis Cotterell, the coach who steered Australian swimmer Grant Hackett to gold in the 1500m freestyle at the Sydney and Athens Games.
Zhang continued to benefit from Cotterell's guidance at the 2009 Rome World Swimming Championships when he broke Hackett's 800m freestyle's world, recording 7 min, 32.12 sec, and clinched the first world gold medal for the country's male squad.
The 24-year-old Beijing native's breakthrough provided a shot in the arm to the country and drove a group of promising swimmers, including women's 200m butterfly Beijing Olympic titlist Liu Zige, 2006 short course men's 200m butterfly world champion Wu Peng and Sun Yang, the winner of men's 1500m freestyle at 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games, to train alongside top-flight swimmers in Australia and the US.
However, Chinese swimming must stick to its state-supported system as it deals with "a massive amount of people", Spitz said.
"(China's) success is based on a large population. With such masses, statistically, the country has a higher possibility of finding world-class swimmers. But then, it needs experienced coaches to put them at the top of the system, so it works.
"In America, we do it well through our college system. It's a case of different ways based on different situations, you don't need to change the whole system, but China still needs to seek for more chances to communicate with the best," said the 60-year-old.