Xu could not hold back his tears after the award ceremony.
A small winning margin of four hundredths of a second for Xu Jiayu proved a big step forward for Chinese swimming at the FINA World Championships in Budapest on Tuesday.
Wearing a smile while clinching the gold medal in the men's 100m backstroke, a first for Chinese male swimmers at any world championships, Xu could not hold back his tears after the award ceremony.
Looking back over the past four years, Xu had very reason to express his feelings in such an emotional way.
"At first, I felt happy because I won, but moments later, I realized all the pain I suffered to get to this gold medal," he said.
Getting 10th position in 2013, then 4th place in 2015, and now holding a history-making gold medal in Budapest, the phrase "no pain, no gain" indeed signifies Xu's progress over the past four years.
Exhaustion and vomit were no strangers to Xu during his training. Fortunately, all that pain has now paid off.
"I trained every day ahead of the competition, and never had the chance to feel overly relaxed. All of the training seemed to be at the same level of difficulty, so I cannot figure out which part was the hardest one," he said.
It was not the first time for Xu to get emotional; he also cried after renewing his personal best to claim a silver medal in the Rio Olympic Games last year.
"Two years without any improvement, now I can finally make it," he said.
In April, he clocked 51.86 in the National Championships, just 0.01 shy of the world record.
"When I finally tasted victory at the worlds, I suddenly felt a bit nervous," he said. "After the semifinals yesterday, I thought that it was possible to beat the world record, but I didn't give myself any surprise, which I felt a little disappointed about."
"My results have progressed in a consistent way. I could have hit the benchmark of 52 seconds back in Rio, but I was too nervous in major tournaments to perform at my normal level. This time, I was also quite nervous here and could only win by a small margin.
"I won the title by only four hundredths of a second, and I met tough challenge to resist the pressure from other opponents," Xu said, suggesting that he felt a little frustrated with his performance in the final.
Minutes before, Chinese swimming ace Sun Yang added his first 200m freestyle title to his title collection from four world championships, which also includes 400m, 800m and 1500m.
Sun gave an emotional Xu a warm hug after the latter's ice-breaking victory.
"I can also stand at the stage center now, just like he did," said Xu, scheduled to compete later in the 50m and 200m backstroke in the Hungarian capital, said with great confidence.