Shanghai Hosts World Swimming Championship

With the Olympics in London only a year away, the aquatics world will be focused on the 14th FINA World Swimming Championships in Shanghai this month to forecast the medal count. This world competition is organised every two years and represents the most important aquatics event outside of the esteemed Summer Olympics. While the emphasis is clearly on the competitive swimming events, the Championships also feature diving, synchronised swimming, water polo and open water swimming. World records are constantly being broken at these events; all but a select few were set at the 2009 Championships in Rome.

In 2007 Shanghai was chosen as the location of the competition, selected over Qatar, a triumph for the city following closely on the heels of last year’s World Expo. The brand-new Oriental Sports Center, located just south of the Expo site, recently finished construction after more than two years. The Center has risen as a massive architectural masterpiece, complete with innovative and energy-efficient designs, a man-made lake that will help with heating the pool water and a few unprecedented perks, such as air-conditioning under the spectator seats.

As the world prepares for the next year's Summer Games, the top aquatic athletes will use Shanghai’s Championships as a platform to prove themselves and gauge their competition for the bigger stage. Old rivalries will be challenged and new ones will be created, while admirers will witness first-class athletes strive to get that coveted gold medal in their respective best events.

Chinese diver Wu Minxia is one of several athletes in the spotlight during the two weeks of competition. After winning gold medals in the synchronised springboard event in both the 2004 and 2008 Olympics, Wu has a chance to truly shine after living in the shadow of her synchronized diving partner, Guo Jingjing, for the past decade. Guo made headlines as often as she topped the winner’s podium with her colourful commentary and celebrity love life. Performing in her hometown of Shanghai with new diving partner He Zi, Wu is now ready to blaze the trail for the younger members of the Chinese team.

Michael Phelps, who won an unprecedented eight gold medals at the Olympics in 2008, has had a surprising lack of production at consequent competitions and is looking to prove that he is physically and mentally prepared for London 2012 by dominating in Shanghai. He will be going head-to-head with swimmers like China’s Wu Peng, who has presented significant competition for Phelps. In fact, although the 200m butterfly is Phelps' signature event, Wu has snatched first place against him at two major meets in the past three months. Swimmers were also anticipating Australian legend Ian Thorpe, who announced his return from retirement just a few months ago, but he will be ineligible for competition until this November due to drug-testing regulations.

One aspect that fans should look for at the Championships is the tough rivalry between China and the US, two countries with incredibly deep rosters on their respective aquatics teams. At the 2009 Championships, each team won 29 medals, tied at first place. China’s strengths clearly lie in their diving team, who garnered medals in every single event the last time around, while the US has more focus on their swimmers. This year, China hopes to end up alone atop that list of total medals, especially now that they hold the advantage of performing in their home country.

The city of Shanghai hopes that their multibillion-yuan project will remain a world-class aquatics centre for years to come. Beijing’s Water Cube was converted into a water park after only a year of use following the 2008 Olympic Games, rendering the complex unfit for competition. Ideally, Shanghai’s Oriental Sports Center will be able to retain its original function as well as double as a venue for non-aquatic events, thus elevating the city’s status as a potential stage for the sporting world.

Tickets for the event start at RMB 10 and are available at