(Reuters) - A teenager with an irregular crop of hair and an uncertain smile, China's Ye Shiwen showed no sign of awkwardness in the pool as she powered to gold in the 400 metres individual medley on Sunday.
Both Ye and her compatriot Li Xuanxu, who won the bronze medal, showed off the new wave of Chinese women that will be a force to be reckoned with at the London Games.
Ye trailed American world champion Elizabeth Beisel after the penultimate breaststroke leg before unleashing a devastating sprint finish over the final two freestyle laps.
She covered the penultimate lap in 29.75 seconds, faster than Michael Phelps did in the men's medley final, then the last in 28.93, which was quicker than Ryan Lochte did in winning the men's event.
Ye also became the first female swimmer to break a world record since the ban of hi-tech suits, taking more than a second off the previous record, set by Australia's Stephanie Rice in Beijing four years ago, and all that despite a bad night's sleep and some pre-race nerves.
"I am so excited, it is out of a dream," she said. "My coach said he didn't imagine I would have this result."
Ye brushed off criticism from some quarters that China trains its competitors "like robots".
"Of course not," she said, in brief comments to reporters as she professed herself "too excited to think".
"I think we have very good training, very scientific based training, that's why we all have progressed."
Echoing her performance at the world championships last year when she won the 200m medley, Ye's powerful final laps in Saturday's gruelling eight-lap race showed off the impact of the large hands that got her noticed by her kindergarten teacher, as she shattered Beisel's hopes for gold.
Beisel, who set the fastest time in the heats, took silver, but the 19-year-old said she was delighted just to be on the podium after missing out altogether in Beijing when she was just 15.
"I have probably been dreaming of this moment since I started swimming," she said of her medal, congratulating rival Ye on "the race of her life".
Ye, who turned 16 in March, comes from an ordinary working-class background in the affluent eastern tourism hub of Hangzhou, best known for its famous lake.
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