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TOKYO (Reuters) - China's butterfly prospect Zhang Yufei is one of their top gold medal hopes at the Tokyo Games, with the 23-year old likely to mark a new era for Chinese swimmers after Olympic champion Sun Yang was banned https://www.reuters.com/lifestyle/sports/chinese-swimmer-suns-doping-ban-reduced-four-years-will-miss-tokyo-games-2021-06-22 for four years over doping violations.
Zhang delivered a blistering performance in the 100 metres butterfly heats on Saturday where she tied for first place with Australia's Emma McKeon in 55.82 seconds, just shy of her entry time of 55.62 which ranked her number one going into the Games.
Xuzhou-born Zhang is China's most promising contender for a place on the podium in the women's butterfly as she prepares for the semi-finals on Sunday ahead of the finals on Monday.
She will have to hold off rivals including McKeon, Sweden's Sarah Sjostrom, American Torri Huske and Canadian Maggie MacNeil, who are all vying for gold.
In the 200m butterfly, Zhang has again been seeded first with a time of 2:05.44, the fastest this year. She is also down to swim the 50m freestyle and team relays.
However her tough schedule may prove draining, China's former men's world champion Zhang Lin told the state-backed China Daily newspaper.
"There is more pressure physically and mentally at the Olympics... it's definitely not a guarantee for her to win, even though she's the hot favourite."
Still netizens and local media heaped praise on Zhang.
“In this Olympics, the prospects for the Chinese swimmers are relatively bleak. Currently Zhang Yufei is the only one with absolute gold scoring strength,” the Yangcheng Evening News said in a commentary.
(Reporting by Farah Master)