The top performing Women’s Laser Radial sailor on the 2011- 2012 World Cup circuit has been China's 24 year old Lijia Xu, who just won her third Gold medal of this season at the Semaine Olympique Francaise. This now positions her atop the ISAF Laser Radial Standings.
Lijia Xu winning Olympic Test event Laser Radial medal race
While Marit Bouwmeester (NED) and Evi Van Acker (BEL) have until now been considered favourites to take Olympic Gold, Xu, the bronze medallist at the Beijing 2008 Olympics, has lots of talent and she has been in great form in this vital Olympic year.
Lijia Xu, (her nickname in English is Lily) started to sail Optimists at age 10 in 1997. She won the National Girls title a year later. She won two Optimist World championships, moved up to the Europe dinghy and went on to become the 2006 Laser Radial World champion after just eight months in the class.
Xu was runner up in the Laser Radial Worlds of 2008 and made history winning Olympic bronze behind Anne Tunnicliffe (USA) and Lithuanian Gintare Volungeviciute in Qingdao, China. She was the first Chinese sailor ever to win an Olympic medal.
Xu won the Laser Radial Class medal race at the 2011 Olympic Test event in Weymouth, England after finishing fourth overall behind Marit Boumeester, Evi van Acker and Paige Railey (USA).
Gold medalist Lijia Xu (CHN) in the Laser Radial class - Miami OCR 2012
She then lifted a gear, winning the 2011 Open Europe titles and then Sail Melbourne, the first World Cup regatta of the season. Since then Xu won the Miami OCR and now again in Hyeres.
With Weymouth based British coach Jon Emmett showing her the way she will be amongst the favourites for London 2012.
This week Sail-World.com took the opportunity, during a training break, to ask Lily about her journey since Beijing 2008.
‘After Beijing 2008 I went back to the university, majoring in Business Management at Shanghai Jiaotong University. I had some time off from intense training to overcome injury.
‘Actually I wasn't back into sailing the Radial until this time in 2011. I initially struggled to perform well last year due to my lack of strength and technique after returning to the boat.
‘But I could feel my ‘sixth sense’ (of sailing) was still there and I've got lots of past experiences to help me recover my sailing level more quickly.
‘Since I've been spending loads of time in the gym, I’ve become fitter and fitter which has allowed my technique to show through.’
Despite Some Big Wind Struggles Lijia Xu CHN Marches On - Semaine Olympique Francaise de Voile 2012
While Xu showed in Qingdao she could handle light weather Hyeres was a heavy weather regatta, so many were surprised at her good result.
Xu explained. ‘Well I had not sailed for two months after the Miami OCR due to a broken bone in my hand. That gave me the chance to be even more physical training focused, so I could push really hard to get stronger and fitter. I must say I did benefit from the solid training, despite the accident, as I am stronger than I have been and that helped in the heavy conditions.
‘I am really enjoying my return to sailing over the last year. For me it is the whole journey of everyday life I treasure the most; training, racing, travelling, studying, family and friends etc.
‘My British coach Jon Emmett gives me a completely different approach, of really understanding the sport of sailing, the positive attitude towards everything, scientific and effective training without injury, balancing personal life and career. All in all train hard, play hard and enjoy the journey in the meantime.
‘From now to the Olympics I will be mostly sailing four to five times a week, depending on the weather and the training load. And we do long speed work, short courses as well as match racing and so on. Usually my daily training program includes weights and aerobics in the gym, sailing and I end the day with a Pilates session.
‘I am very excited because we will have good Chinese sailors in Weymouth.
‘Li Ling, our top RS:X Women’s sailor is amongst the World Cup medals and our RS:X Men’s sailor Wang Aichen is getting good results.
‘Wang Weidong and Deng Daokun will represent China in the Men’s 470 class at their second Olympics.
‘Two Women’s 470 crews will be trying to qualify at this year's Worlds which will be held in Barcelona later this month.
‘For me the next major event is the Audi World Laser Radial Women's Championship 2012 from Friday 11th to Sunday 20th May in Boltenhagen, Germany.’
Xu had some flashes of good form at the last World Championships at Perth 2011, but two black flags knocked her back to 25th overall.
The upcoming Laser Radial World Championship will be another strong test for the Chinese sailor. Given her 2012 form the question is can she repeat her 2006 result?
Xu Lijia (CHN) bronze medal Laser Radial, 2008 Qingdao