August 06, 2015

KAZAN, Russia (AP) Standing on the highest step of the podium after winning swimming's signature race, Ning Zetao clutched his warmup suit by his chest where there was an image of the Chinese flag and thrust it upward.

And before he even got out of the pool he did the same thing with his swim cap.

The message was clear: China, already dominant with Sun Yang in the distance races, can sprint now, too.

Ning surprised a depleted field to win the 100-meter freestyle at the world championships in 47.84 seconds on Thursday.

Pre-race favorite Cameron McEvoy of Australia touched second in 47.95, and Federico Grabich of Argentina was third in 48.12.

The 22-year-old Ning became the first man from Asia to win a medal of any color in the 100 free at the worlds.

''It is a dream of Asia, of China, to get gold medals in sprint distances,'' Ning said through a translator.

Ning swept the 50 and 100 freestyle titles at last year's Asian Games, becoming the first Asian swimmer to break the 48-second barrier. He entered this meet with the second-best qualifying time of 47.70, and has his first world title a year before the Rio de Janeiro Olympics. He's a member of the Chinese Navy.

''I will have more confidence to prepare for Rio,'' Ning said. ''I know it's true that it could be a slight change in my life and that I could be in the focus of the public. That is my life - changing.''

Russian sprint great Alex Popov presented the gold medal to Ning, who gave a military salute while his national anthem played.

''I'm a fan of Popov,'' Ning said. ''I always (employ) the skill of Popov's swimming to keep up my training.''

McEvoy had the lead on the second lap until Ning passed him in the final meters.

''It might have been a couple of strokes, maybe in the second 25, which were a bit overworked,'' McEvoy said. ''In the moment, it doesn't feel like that, and that's the nature of sprinting. The smallest increase in energy, you can pay for it in the last five meters.

Olympic champion Nathan Adrian of the United States tied for seventh.

Russia's Vladimir Morozov was disqualified for a false start in the semifinals, and defending champion James Magnussen of Australia watched from home with a shoulder injury.

Grabich grabbed Argentina's first medal in the history of the long-course worlds.

''It's very important for the movement in Argentina,'' Grabich said. ''But the Olympics will be completely different. Magnussen will be swimming, Adrian will be in better form. It will be much, much more difficult.''

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Associated Press writer James Ellingworth contributed.

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Andrew Dampf can be followed at www.twitter.com/asdampf

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