China's Laser Radial star Xu Lijia - riding on a wave of success

Xu Lijia (CHN) bronze medal Laser Radial, 2008 Qingdao
Even though her name is far from a household word in China, Xu Lijia ranks among the top sailors in the world after becoming the nation's first Olympic sailing medalist in 2008.

The young sailor won her first gold medal at the World Championships 10 years ago when she was only 15, and followed that with a bronze in the Laser Radial competition held in Qingdao as part of the 2008 Olympic Games.


Xu said sailing is attractive because it is 'full of changes' and 'gives a free and delightful feeling that I can't find in everyday life. Sailing events are held in seas of different countries with different water and weather conditions, so every round is brand new,' she said. 'I love the sport so much and I enjoy every second on the ocean,' she said.

Xu was only four years old when her father taught her to swim. She later learned to sail due to 'misunderstanding'. 'My dad confused sailing with surfing,' she said, and agreed Xu should learn it. 'I then found out the two sports are totally different.'

She began sailing in 1997 as one of only three girls who passed a two-week test before setting out on the water.

Xu missed the 2004 Athens Olympic Games after doctors found a small tumor in her left knee. They prescribed immediate surgery and half a year's rest.After the operation, her father told her to only use the other leg as much as possible to control the boat, but the sturdy girl ignored the advice and kept training hard. Xu has set a goal of a gold medal in upcoming London Olympics, but says enjoying the competition is more important than the result. 'I get to know myself and understand life over the process of every contest.'

Xu Lijia (CHN) bronze medal Laser Radial, 2008 Qingdao
While sailing events are unfamiliar to most Chinese people, Xu said she will take the sport as a lifetime career and help more of her countrymen experience the joy of gliding along the waves. 'Even when I get married and have my children, I will still sail,' she said.

Xu is one of the few Chinese athletes who speaks fluent English. 'A lot of knowledge about sailing is on English-language websites and books - I have to read them and know the training styles of European and American competitors,' she said.

She has made friends with her peers from more than 20 countries, and writes blogs on the Internet in both Chinese and English. She also sometimes serves as an interpreter when her team goes abroad.
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