Chinese swimmer Zhang Yufei did not talk to or even look at Japanese rival and friend Rikako Ikee until everything was over. When they finally saw each other, no words were needed.
In one of the most emotional moments during the first half of the Asian Games in Hangzhou, gold medalist Zhang and bronze medalist Ikee acknowledged each other's hard work with a hug and tears after their last head-to-head race Friday, the women's 50-meter butterfly.
Ikee was the brightest star of the previous Asian Games in 2018, winning six gold medals at age 18.
Five years later, Zhang is the Olympic 200 butterfly gold medalist, while Ikee is trying to get back to her prime after her recovery from leukemia.
"I don't know why she doesn't talk to me. She even avoids eye contact in the call room," a frustrated Ikee told reporters before she headed to the medals ceremony, referring to the room where swimmers assemble before a race.
Zhang apparently ignored Ikee on purpose to concentrate on her performance.
Asked what she said to Ikee, the Chinese star said, "I told her don't cry, don't cry. When they announced her name on the podium, I already felt like crying. But I thought to myself, this is a live telecast, I cannot cry."
"Then I saw her hugging her coach in tears. In that moment, I could not hold back my tears any more."
Both women were unwell while competing in the six-day program in the pool.
Zhang still collected six gold medals, four in individual events and two from relays. Ikee managed one relay silver and one individual bronze.
Asked whether this is the first time she has had to compete while being ill, Zhang said, "Yes, what a special experience. It feels quite normal once you hit the water. It was all adrenaline."
"But outside of it, there were moments when I felt weak and couldn't really stand. I felt OK mentally, but from last night to this morning, I practically lost my voice."
Ikee thinks Zhang is a real fighter.
"I'm sure she'll continue to get stronger," Ikee said. "It's good to see the world's top swimmers like her, out of Asia. She makes me think I want to train harder and catch up with her."