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Look out for Lily – China’s Laser Radial champion will bounce back

by Rob Kothe and the Sail-World Team on 15 Jan 2012
Lijia Xu winning Olympic Test event Laser Radial medal race © Clive Mason/Getty Images Europe)
At the recent Perth 2011 Laser Radial World Championships one of the sailors who did not perform as well as expected was China's first ever Olympic sailing medallist Lijia Xu (Lily) who finished 25th.

But the 24 year old Chinese sailor has talent to burn and is working hard for the coming European season.
We interviewed Lily after Perth 2011.


Lijia Xu, (Lily) was an Optimist World Champion and went on to become the 2006 Laser Radial World champion, was runner up in the Laser Radial Worlds 2008 and made history winning bronze in Qingdao, China.

She won the Laser Radial Class medal race at the 2011 Olympic Test event in Weymouth, England finishing fourth overall behind Marit Boumeester, Evi van Acker and Paige Railey. She won the 2011 Europe titles and then the first World Cup regatta, Sail Melbourne and with Weymouth based British coach Jon Emmett now guiding her program, she must surely be one of the players at London 2012.

At Perth 2011 Lily had a horror regatta, with two black flags and a DSQ but she had two seconds in her five top ten results and we expect to see her bounce back into serious Olympic contention in the coming months ahead of the Games. Today she is heading to Florida for the Miami OCR.

Just after the Perth 2011 event we had the opportunity for a question and answer session with Lily, who speaks and writes English very well.

You started sailing in Optimists at age 10 and a year later you were racing?

‘Yes, I started to sail Optis in 1997 and the next year I won the National Girls title which gave me a spot for the next year's worlds in France in 1999.’

Please tell us about that early experience?

'I was sent to be a swimmer by my parents when I was four years old and from that age I practiced swimming two hours every day either after or before school depending on the different seasons.

‘Six years later my Opti coach Jing Zhang let me have a try of a sailboat, which intrigued me so much that I immediately decided to change sports and then an entirely different life appeared in front of me.

‘The cost to follow my interest was high - being away from home from then on, because I had to stay with the Shanghai Sailing Team, in the suburb of Shanghai, two hours driving from my house.

‘I transferred to another school that was closer to the Sailing Team; new school mates, new team mates, and without my parents' help from the age of ten. I almost felt like I was in a totally new world, I had to adapt to a new environment and people around me.

‘I was lucky to be in the Shanghai Team for it is the best Opti province team in China and that allowed me to win the Nationals after a year’s sailing. But it was not until after the first experience of the Worlds, that I realized how far I had to go to be a successful sailor and to fulfil my journey.

Then tell us about your later Optimist years, when you became world champion?

My first two Opti worlds were quite disappointing, I did not even managed to get into the top 100. But just like Ben Ainslie said in his book 'you cannot not sail an Opti until you are 15'. My third and fourth appearances, championship winning years at the Worlds, were when I was around 14-15 years old and when I think back, more like a real sailor and professional racer, for I was then been able to focus and control my performance in a more mature way, compared with the first few years.

Please tell us about your university education?

‘I am majoring in Business Management at Shanghai Jiaotong University, which is located quite close to my home in the city. But I still choose to live in the college because I like the environment and being around people of my own age but from different cities of China.

You were born in Shanghai, where are you living, sailing now?

‘My hometown is in the city of Shanghai, but at the moment I am training with the National Team in Dongshan, Fujian Province (1,200 km to the south).

You won the Laser Radial Worlds in 2006, could you tell us about the highlights of that year?

‘After eight months of sailing the Laser Radial, winning the Worlds in the States was completely beyond my expectation. I might not have been the best sailor there, but I sailed the most consistent series.

You won the Bronze medal in Qingdao, please tell us what you learned from that event and how it felt to win an Olympic medal for China?

‘I felt so proud to won a medal for my country, especially in an Olympic Games held in China. Having a huge party of people cheering for me on the wall was surely one of the most memorable moments in my life. From those Games I learnt to persist - against any pressure, criticism, or failure.

Please tell us about your sailing from 2009-2010?

‘I spent most of the time training in China for the National Games that season. Afterwards I went to the full-time college study for one and a half years. I didn't finish the whole series for the Worlds in Largs, Scotland due to lack of systematic training and proper preparation. Cheering for my team mates at the SOF regatta in April this year was the beginning of my preparation for next year's Olympics.

Please tell us about Perth 2011, your two black flags and the DSQ?

Yes, this was a pretty hard time for me. I need to be more precise about positioning the line to improve my starting.

Now that you have a new coach in Jon Emmett leading up to London 2012, what has changed in your preparation?

‘Jon is a very experienced sailor and coach. I am blessed to have him in our team leading up to the London Olympics. His involvement has enabled me to learn more about scientific sailing, effective physical training, and superior mental preparation.

After the not so good result in Perth, how do you feel about the season ahead?

‘It gave me more drive to train hard and to keep improving in the next seven months. And now I know clearly what I need to work on first and second, for I know I have a great deal of potential to be cultivated in the coming future.

Please tell us about the other girls in your Laser Radial squad?

‘We have five girls in total in the National Team now. Also, we have some men Radial sailors from other provinces joining us in training here in Dongshan. The climate in southern China is ideal for the winter training, warm, windy and lots of boats together.’

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