Gao Jinlong arrives for the interview by moped, typical transportation for the thrifty Shanghainese.
Wearing glasses, striped blue shirt and black trousers, he looks a little chubby for an amateur swimmer.
“I don’t swim anymore,” Gao admits. “It’s costly to swim in Shanghai. Besides, my own stroke can be stolen by the others if I swim in public pools too often.”
The 60-year-old handyman removes a simply bound booklet from a plastic bag and sets it on the table. The title: “An Introduction to the Chinese Leisurely Stroke.”
The Chinese stroke
Gao Jinlong came to public attention in Shanghai two years ago when, during an interview with Shanghai’s Sports Channel, he claimed to have invented a new swimming technique.
During the interview, Gao demonstrated his stroke in a child’s pool.
He lay face up with both arms behind him, moving his arms as though doing a reverse breaststroke. His two legs remained completely still. His forward motion was propelled by his arms.
When in the water, his body resembled the Chinese character for “zhong” (中), the first character in the word for “China” (中国).
Gao called his technique the “Chinese stroke.”
A leisurely swimming style
A key feature of the “Chinese stroke” is the swimmer’s head position.
“It’s dangerous to swim in rapid rivers with most of the popular swimming strokes,” Gao explains. “But the Chinese stroke allows you to do this, as you swim with your legs in front of you, so you can assess what is ahead.”
“You can even use it when the water level is lower than your knees,” he adds.
Gao also boasts that his “Chinese stroke” is the world’s first truly “leisurely” swimming style, because it requires little effort.
To Gao, many swimming strokes are over-complicated or of use only for high intensity training, which does not suit the needs of those who swim for recreation.
“Old people can use [the Chinese stroke], too,” Gao says. “The risk of choking on water is much less than with other strokes. It’s very safe.”
Applying for a patent
Gao Jinlong “invented” this stroke purely by chance.
He says that about 30 years ago, while he was swimming in a river in Anhui Province, he saw a small boat casually manage to reverse itself from a dead stop.
It led him to wonder if swimmers, too, could do the same. Thus inspired, he came up with this “feet first” method of swimming.
Gao’s greatest wish is to get the stroke patented, so that he can begin commercialization efforts.
“This technique has great commercial potential,” he says. “We cannot only hold classes, but also establish a specialized Chinese stroke swimming club.”
Despite Gao’s numerous proposals over the past five years, the Shanghai Sports Bureau has yet to take interest in his introduction booklet.
Failure to get his stroke officially recognized has been a great disappointment.
A line on his handbook’s cover page tells the story: “Investors and entrepreneurs interested in recreational sports are welcome to get in touch.”
Pan Lijun, lecturer at Shanghai University of Sports, says that Gao’s “invention” is no news to amateur and professional swim teams.
“[This style is] used to help the swimmer get a better sense of water,” Pan says. “It uses palms to paddle and is used frequently during the training of synchronized swimmers.”
Gao has heard the same criticism often, yet he still becomes agitated when being challenged by professional opinion.
“I know many people claim to know this technique, but I’d like to challenge them to see who can swim the fastest,” he says, his voice rising, his face turning red.
“The shallower the water, the better. You can even scatter some nails or glass shards on the bottom of the pool, and those who really know this technique won’t get hurt swimming past them.”
Relaxing once more, Gao points to his booklet and explains that even though there may be others aware of the stroke, no one has yet compiled a guide as he has done.
“This is definitely a world’s first,” Gao says. “Because in my entire life, I have never done anything others have already done.”