Champion Swimmer Ning Zetao Comes to NYU Shanghai

Chinese Olympic World Champion Ning Zetao visited NYU Shanghai to discuss the importance of globalization and exercise.

Chinese world champion swimmer Ning Zetao came to NYU Shanghai for a youth talk on Friday, Oct. 18.

After getting stuck in traffic, Zetao finally showed to the auditorium, resulting in loud cheers and screams from girls at the event. Even the heavy Shanghai rains could not stop him from visiting NYU Shanghai, despite the time delay.

As a world champion swimmer and a member of ”90后“ generation, 23-year-old Zetao discussed with David Pe and two other NYU Shanghai students the responsibility that comes with being a youth citizen, as well as what he has learned through his experience in international competitions.  “Chinese people are doing great in many different aspects, the only thing we need is more confidence. Over these fourteen years as a swimmer, I have met a lot of excellent foreign competitors; they are all very focused and dedicated to their career. I have learned a lot from them,” he commented. This, as David Pe mentioned in the talk, is also the goal NYU Shanghai has for its students: to make the world their majors.

David Pe also asked Zetao questions based on the audience’s preferences. For example, when asked whether he gets nervous five minutes before his competitions, Zetao gave a positive answer: “Just how you guys have exams, competitions are exams for me. Of course I feel nervous. But I need to act fine, to show people I am relaxed and confident, because all the participants observe each other and whoever who has a better status usually wins.”

Zetao then shared his experience going through frustrations and difficulties in life. For example, he talked about the nights when he couldn’t sleep, when he doubted himself and felt stressful about the expectation people have of him. He concluded with telling the students at NYU Shanghai that one important thing to bear in mind is to never lose hope and to be yourself. When referring to his future plan as a youth and a public figure, he said that he would like to contribute more to charity and volunteer work.

At the end of the event, Ning also took a “selfie” with all the students present at the event. He also threw a pillow at the crowd that contained his signature, which caused commotion. “This is absolutely an amazing refreshment after our midterms”, Jitong Zhao, who was present at the event, posted in her WeChat moments. For most students, this was an unexpected opportunity, being able to see a champion who is popular all over the world. While athletes and gym users all received invitation to the event students from the NYU Shanghai population were picked based on a lottery of interested students. Many students saw this event as an encouragement from the school to exercise morel, but the conversation with Ning was more focused on global experience and responsibility rather than sports. When asked what the school expects students to take away from the event, Adam Ebnit, Director of NYU Shanghai Student Life, explained, “Your generation will be burdened with the responsibility of navigating this very turbulent world; whatever you can do small or big, will have a lasting impact. Push yourselves and don’t settle for less.”

An interesting note, after Zetao showed up to the event wearing NYU Shanghai’s purple baseball jacket, several students also decided to buy the jacket from the NYU Shanghai Campus Store, either for themselves or for people outside the school. According to Min-hsuan (Sherry) Huang, Shop Assistant at the Campus Store, the jackets are selling out fast because there are a few available at one time; some students are joking about making a fortune by re-selling the jackets.

This article was written by Jingyi Wang. Please send an email to to get in touch.
Photo Credit: NYU Shanghai

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