Liu breaks 50-meter backstroke world record at Asian Games

China's Liu Xiang celebrates after winning the women's 50m backstroke final during the swimming competition at the 18th Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia, Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

Liu Xiang of China has set a world record time of 26.98 seconds to win the women's 50-meter backstroke gold medal at the Asian Games. She lowered the mark of 27.06 set by fellow Chinese swimmer Zhao Jing at the 2009 world championships in Rome

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Liu Xiang swam a world-record time of 26.98 seconds to win the women's 50-meter backstroke gold medal on Tuesday night at the Asian Games.

The 21-year-old Liu, who prefers swimming the freestyle, became the first woman to break 27 seconds in the event, lowering the record of 27.06 set by fellow Chinese swimmer Zhao Jing at the world championships in Rome in 2009 before the contentious rubberized suits were banned.

"My main focus is actually the 50-meter freestyle," Liu said through a translator. "I didn't expect to break the world record at all.

"Because the focus is on freestyle, I didn't have any pressure. I could concentrate on my own performance."

Fu Yuanhui took silver in 27.68 in a 1-2 finish for China and Japan's Natsumi Sakai, the 2017 world junior champion, won bronze in 27.91.

Fu won the 50 and 100 backstroke titles at the 2014 Asian Games, was world champion in the 50 backstroke in 2015 and picked up an Olympic bronze in the 100 backstroke at Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

Liu, who had a previous best of 27.40 and was a bronze medalist in the 50 backstroke at the 2015 world championships, said she still had other events so wouldn't celebrate for a while.

"This gold medal and world record will give me more confidence when competing in the freestyle," she said.

The 50 backstroke is not raced at the Olympics, so the world and continental championships hold some significance for those who enjoy the one-lap sprints.

"Still kind of an achievement in swimming," Liu said, adding that the event's absence from the Olympic program, "doesn't make any difference."

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