Gifted Chinese swimmer brings speed to swimming team

April 24, 2015 — by Stefanie Ting and Rachel Zhang

Roughly 100 out of the China’s 1.4 billion population train with China’s national swim team. Junior Jack Xie, a recent transfer, was one of these elite swimmers at the age of 13. 

Roughly 100 out of the China’s 1.4 billion population train with China’s national swim team.

Junior Jack Xie, a recent transfer, was one of these elite swimmers at the age of 13.

Typical workouts had him in the pool for two hours at a time and swimming 6,000 meters alongside Olympians like Zhang Lin.

Today, after immigrating to the U.S., he is swimming on the Falcon team as well as for the PEAK club team.

In China, he won dozens of medals from competitions such as the Asia Junior Athletics Championships, a meet that includes the top swimmers from all over Asia. He moved to Saratoga in February in pursuit of a higher education and the opportunity to swim against tougher competition.

Standing at 6’2’’ and weighing 176 pounds, Xie is the same height but 18 pounds lighter than his role model, American Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte. Built with long legs, Xie has a lengthy body, allowing him to efficiently slice through the water. He effortlessly crosses the 25 yards of the pool in just seven strokes.

Although Xie’s build allows him to swim more easily, he still needs to dedicate long, grueling hours of practice in hopes of reaching his goal.  

My short-term goal is to do my best and win CCS,” Xie said. “In order to do that, maybe I need to cut some basketball time off.”

In March, Xie hurt his knees, while playing basketball recreationally. Suffering from a slight injury, Xie reduced his training regimen to only dryland workouts and curbed his swimming conditioning. Connected to a rectangular device by the fingers, Xie swam with this common known contraption called a paddle that prevents him from using his legs to move. A week later, Xie returned to his regular conditioning.

Another setback loomed over him in the beginning of the season. Due to the schools’ transfer restrictions, Xie was unable to compete for the school team at first. After sorting out the legal hurdles, Xie, free from limitations, is now swimming for the Falcon team and ready to focus on accomplishing his goal.

How good is Xie? His current times qualify for U.S.A Swimming’s U.S. Open, a meet one level less competitive than the U.S. Olympic Trials, and the Summer Junior National Championships, a national level meet for swimmers 18 and under. Both of these meets require a much faster time cut than the CCS championships.

The CCS championships are held in short-course yards, with one lap totaling 25 yards. In China, the pools’ courses are only held in long-course meters or short-course meters, where one lap measures 50 meters or 25 meters, respectively.

Despite this large disparity, Xie adapted quickly and swam in a short-course yards pool at the Speedo Sectionals Championships held in Austin, Texas, from Feb. 25-28. Racing alongside athletes whose average age ranged from 18 to 40, he posted times that would have placed him either first or second in the majority of his events in last year’s CCS.

For the 100-yard freestyle, last year’s first-place winner swam a time of 45.22, while Xie’s fastest time is 44.99. In his best event, the 200 Individual Medley, Xie would have placed second, the winner swimming a 1:44.90 while he has a 1:48.27. With fast times in multiple events, Xie is still narrowing which events to race in at CCS.

Unsurprisingly, Xie was not the first athlete in his family. His mother is a swim coach who trained the silver medalist Zhang Lin in the 400-meter freestyle in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, while his father is a weightlifting coach for the Chinese National Team.

With the encouragement of his parents, Xie embarked on his competitive swimming career at 10. As a boy, Xie was taught how to swim by his mother, who often offered advice to improve his technique in the water. However, this arrangement shortly fell apart.

My mother said that when I was young and was training with her, I didn’t listen to her,” Xie said. “So she sent me to another coach.”

When Xie participated in his vigorous program in 2010, his schooling, in which he attended Yuying High School in Beijing, was designed to fit around the training schedule. Xie said that the classes were easier and smaller, usually containing four to five people. There, he trained under China’s National Team’s coach, Wugang, and endured strenuous workouts.

During that year, Xie swam in the Water Cube, the swimming venue of the 2008 Beijing Olympic games, five days a week. He was given a break on Mondays, when he played recreational basketball, and completed a dryland workout on Fridays.

As an addition to their already vigorous training regimen, his team would sometimes practice at one of the plateaus in the province YunNan.

Since the plateau has a higher elevation than his usual practice location, the oxygen content is lower than the that of the sea;  thus, athletes must adapt to this stress by becoming more efficient at transporting and using oxygen.

Ever since Xie has moved to Saratoga, he has learned to adjust to the new environment and practices.

Although Xie prior to moving to SHS had taken English classes in China, they were not sufficient. The language barrier has made communication and comprehension difficult in classes for Xie. In casual settings, Xie can successfully continue conversation with a few stumbles and pauses.

As each day progresses, Xie is slowly improving his English and adapting to the different lifestyle here.

Living with the host family of junior Jennifer Poo, Xie is still far from his close friends and family back at home.

“Since my family is in China, I am forced to take care of myself,” Xie said. “I miss my home and my friends there.”

Upon arriving to Saratoga, Xie enrolled in PEAK Swimming, a competitive swim program based in many Bay Area high schools. He swims 15 and a half hours a week, with early  morning swim practices on Monday, Thursday and Saturday. PEAK Swimming head coach Abi Liu has already seen great potential in Xie.

Liu said Xie’s work ethic is admirable, allowing him to persevere through the practices that are “not just physically challenging, but also requiring lots of thinking, mind setting, and mental toughness.”

Despite all his past accomplishments, Xie has remained humble and considerate.

“I have not yet heard him complain no matter how hard the workouts were,” Liu said. “He is a respectful and kind person and does not let his success in the pool change the way he treats the people around him.”

As they relentlessly work toward accomplishing his goals, which encompasses swimming in college but not professionally, Liu is optimistic for Xie’s future.

“We have set short-term and long-term goals, and he is taking steps working towards them each day,” Liu said. “I am confident that [Xie] will reach his ultimate goal.”