ROME — When swimming's World Championships begin today, the soup du jour is expected to be turtle.
Just as China's famous track coach, Ma Junren, has credited that concoction with assisting in the training of his women athletes, expect his nautical counterpart, Chen Yun Peng, to do the same.
Also, expect coaches from other countries to suggest that the Chinese women are taking something more illicit with their soup.
Four years after returning to international competition in 1984 during the Los Angeles Olympics, the Chinese women won three gold medals and one silver at Seoul. In the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, they improved to four golds and five silvers.
Then they got serious.
Of the top 25 times in the 13 events that are contested in the Olympics, 325 in all, the Chinese had 101 last year. That was compared to 28 the year before.
Some believe the Chinese women could win as many as eight gold medals before the swimming championships end next Sunday.
The coaches for the U.S. men and women, Jon Urbanchek of Michigan and Richard Quick of Stanford, will be surprised if their teams win that many golds combined. They list contenders as Janet Evans in the 400- and 800-meter freestyles, Allison Wagner in both individual medley races, Jeff Rouse in the 100 backstroke and Tom Dolan and Eric Namesnik in the 400 individual medley.
On Sunday, Chen Lixia and Yu Zhuocheng maintained China's dominance in diving.
After Chen had produced a masterful series of dives to lead a Chinese 1-2 finish in the women's 1-meter springboard, Yu's final dive, an inward 3 1/2 somersault, earned the gold medal ahead of Russia's Dmitry Sautin in the 3-meter springboard.