How long does it take to be a world champion?
2023-05-29 by Sichuan International Communication Center
In 2008, nine-and-a-half-year-old Dai Shiyi stepped into the Sichuan Provincial Stadium, clueless about synchronized swimming. "All I knew was what my family told me: 'it's like dancing in the water, very soothing,' and they left me in Chengdu," she recalled. She didn't expect that she would keep "dancing" in the water for many years to come.
On May 14, 2023, Dai Shiyi claimed the championship in the solo free routine at the FINA Artistic Swimming World Cup in Egypt.
Before coming to Chengdu to learn synchronized swimming, Dai had only practiced dance. "I didn't even know how to swim, yet my family sent me off to Chengdu," said Dai. In a way, she was "coaxed" into starting her athletic career.
In 2013, Dai officially joined the Sichuan Artistic Swimming Team.
After moving up to the provincial team, Dai made significant progress. In 2016, she represented the Chinese team in the Kazan Artistic Swimming Junior World Championships and the Asian Championships held the same year. Her exceptional artistic performances and technical skills often landed her roles in solo, duet, and team events. For a long time, as the "ace" of the Sichuan team—the one being tossed and lifted—Dai had been under enormous pressure. As an experienced player though, Dai felt that the World Cup was the most nerve-wracking competition she had ever participated in.
Dai's coach, Zeng Zhen, also found the competition to be "thrilling." "Before the competition, we studied the previous videos of our opponents and adjusted our routine accordingly. Even the slightest imperfection in execution could cost us dozens of points," she said.
Dai's two routines were both featured with distinct Chinese characteristics. One was "Sun and Immortal Birds," themed around Sichuan, and the other was "Mulan." "The entire routine lasts 2 minutes and 18 seconds, and Dai held her breath underwater for 1 minute and 43 seconds. It'sincredibly challenging, putting a high demand on cardiorespiratory endurance," Zeng Zhen explained. This was the Chinese Artistic Swimming Team's solo debut on the international stage during the Paris Olympics cycle. "You could say that the difficulty of Dai's solo routine is on par with the highest levels of Ukrainian and Japanese athletes."
In the end, Dai Shiyi won the solo free routine championship, outscoring the runner-up by nearly forty points.
"The moment the national flag was raised and the national anthem was played, I got goosebumps all over," said Dai. At about the age of 12 or 13, inspired by her senior teammates' performances, Dai set a goal for herself: to become a world champion. After 15 years of training in synchronized swimming, she finally realized her dream.
"This championship has boosted my confidence, and I will continue to work hard to improve," Dai said after the competition in Egypt. Before she unpack her suitcase from the trip, coach Zeng Zhen had already set a new goal for the newly minted world champion—to improve the execution and artistic expression, and to win even more championships.