The Fierce Five: China's Top Olympic Hopefuls

by Stephan Larose
Posted: June 26th, 2008 | Updated: July 16th, 2010 | Comments
The 2008 Beijing Olympics are nearly upon us. Do you know your Chinese Olympians? If not, allow us to introduce you to China's Fierce Five.... What follows are the inspiring stories of five of China's top athletes, all of whom stand great chances of diving, lifting, shooting, and hurtling to Olympic gold in Beijing. Shi Zhiyong: China's Hercules It's not every day that you meet a weight-lifting champion who's embarassed about having small muscles. A weightlifter of Lilliputian stature, Shi Zhiyong is apologetic for what he considers to be an underwhelming physique. "I think my muscles are kind of small," said Shi, his compact body rippling with muscle perfectly toned since childhood. "Please don't judge my body too much, or I will get embarrassed." Thankfully, it's strenth not size or height that counts, and his humble attitude has won our hearts. We also love Shi Zhiyong because of his enforced crash diet where he had to shed 4kg in four days to meet the qualifying weight—something you might expect of a fashion model, but never weightlifter. Subsequently, the 1.6m (5'3") Chinese athlete wistfully listed "food" as his hobby for the Chinese sports-delegation handbook. Shi Zhiyong became a lifter at the Fujian Longyan Sports School when he was just ten. He made the Fujian Provincial Team and then the National Team in 1996 and 1997 respectively. Since then he has won numerous national and Asian titles, become the 1997 World Youth Champion and won the 1999 World Championships. He won gold in 2005 and silver in the 2006 World Weightlifting Championships, where he finishing behind Vencelas Dabaya after adding 177kg to the base weight of 150kg and heaving it overhead to finish 5 kg behind the winner. Shi Zhiyong ambled onto the stage in Athens and heaved an Olympic record of 152.5 kg before catapulting himself into an ecstatic backflip when he realized he had struck gold in the 62-kg competition by hefting a total of 325 kg. Du Li: Gold Medal Sniper Few women feel at home behind the sites of a loaded gun, but Du Li is not a typical girl. Behind her sparkling eyes and gentle smile you'll find the most ambitious Chinese markswoman at the Beijing Olympics. The 26-year-old bagged her first gold in Athens four years ago when she won the 10m air rifle contest and looks forward to defending her title. There is a huge weight on her shoulders she wants to win the first gold medal awarded at home for China. She won the World Cup twice, in 2004 and 2005, and completed her winning streak by taking the 2006 world championships in Zagreb, Croatia. Most don't remember that Du made her name in the Busan Asian Games in 2002, when the young shooter snatched the gold in the three-positions event. Later, she concentrated in 10-meter air rifle events. At the recent World Cup in Beijing, Du finished with a bronze medal in the 10m air rifle but displayed her versatility by claiming the 50m three-positions title, defeating German veteran Sonja Pfeilschifter and Russia's defending Olympic champion Lioubov Galkina. Despite the expectations and pressure, Du takes it all in stride, simply appreciative of the opportunity, "Maybe this will be the only chance for me to compete in Olympic Games hosted by my own country, and I enjoy pressure." Liu Xiang: Handsome Hurdler A young Chinese man stunned the world and made track and field history at the 2004 Athens Olympics by winning the 110m hurdles in 12.91 seconds. Liu Xiang's medal-winning feat combined with his pin-up boy good looks made him a national icon. In 2006, the Shanghai-based athlete followed that success by setting a 110m hurdles world record of 12.88 and winning gold at last year's world championships. Before him, no Chinese or Asian athlete had ever won the 110m hurdles or achieved this level of success in a short-distance running event at the world level. Prior to Liu's success in the 110m hurdles, he was trained as a high jumper and won gold medals in junior track and field competitions in Shanghai. However, he was rejected by sports schools because "he lacked potential." Just as Liu was ready to quit sports, he met Sun Haiping, who became his coach. Sun Haiping insisted that Liu practice hurdles. After rigorous training, Liu won nearly all the races in which he participated. Liu is looking forward to competing with other world track stars at the Beijing Olympics. Coach Sun said, "The main rival for Liu Xiang is Dayron Robles from Cuba, who won the 60m hurdle race held in Stuttgart, Germany, in February of 2006, with a time of 7.45 seconds.Despite the stiff competition, Liu is confident. Now, the heat of the spotlight is more intense than ever as he prepares to defend his title at this year's Games. Watch for Liu's secret weapon: his near-flawless run in the tenth hurdle. Wang Hao: The Wizard of Table Tennis
Known as a pioneer of the "penhold" grip, Wang Hao was the first on the China team to use the reverse backhand technique which in table tennis makes him a magician of slight-of-hand. He frequently uses this technique to "loop drive" the ball over the net when receiving serves, or simply as a counter drive in a rally. This is just one of many tricks up Wang's sleeve, though it's one of the main reasons he's tipped to strike gold for China this year. Wangsnagged the silver medal in men's singles at the 2004 Summer  Olympics and lost to Korean penhold-grip style player Ryu Seung Min. But, after winning the men's singles event at the 2006 Doha Asian games, Wang is now the world's highest ranked player. The 25-year-old started his professional training in 1992 and was picked for the men's national squad in 1998. Since then he has won dozens of national and Asian titles. Last year, Wang Hao won a 4-1 victory over his teammate Wang Liqin, the three-time world singles champion, at  the men's singles semi-finals. While his coach, Lui Guoling, has every confidence in Wang's future Olympic performance he concedes, "German ace Timo Boll, former number one on the Men's World Ranking is China's major opponent." Early in March, China beat South Korea to claim the men's team title at the World Team Table Tennis Championships. This was a turning point for Wang to finally overtake his old rival from 2004, Ryu Seung Min. Guo Jingjing: Diving Diva of Spingboard
Famous for her diving and her dating, Guo Jingjing took up diving at the age of six and started training for competitive diving in 1988. In 1992, she was selected to dive for the national team and now ranks in the top-tier of the sport alongside her international rivals. Her current coach is Zhong Shaozhen.
In the 2004 Summer Olympics, Guo earned gold in the 3m women's synchronized springboard along with Wu Minxia before finally winning her first individual Olympic gold in the 3m women's springboard. The leading member of the national women's diving team after Fu Mingxia, her goal is to win at the Games in Beijing and then retire from diving immediately following the Games.
Guo's fame, unfortunately, extends to her off-the-board as well. Her affairs after the Summer Olympics have been the subject of media scrutiny. She is reputed to be diver Tian Liang's girlfriend, a relationship she demurely neither confirms nor denies.
Lin Dan: The Sultan of Swat
Famous for being spoiled, violent and the number one badminton player for two years running, Lin Dan is currently the most dominant singles badminton player in the world and China's top hope for gold at the Beijing Games.
Recently, he was embroiled in yet another controversy after the state press reported that he hit his coach, prompting a chorus of calls to punish the temperamental star. According to reports, Lin struck his coach, Ji Xinpeng, after losing his temper during a training match on April 8. But top sports officials said Lin, 24, was only involved in a verbal spat with his coach and no blows were struck.
Lin, famous for his public spats with the reigning Olympic champion Taufik Hidayat of Indonesia, was also involved in an altercation with South Korea's Chinese head coach Li Mao in the Korean Open early this year.
The incident has caused uproar on the Internet, with sports fans calling Lin's behavior "intolerable." "The coaching team and chief officials have spoiled Lin. He should have been kicked out of the team earlier," said an anonymous fan to China Daily. Lin Dan regained his world No. 1 ranking in 2006, after a short period of being ranked behind Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia. Lin also won the 2007 World Badminton Championships in men's singles, beating Sony Dwi Kuncoro of Indonesia in the final to become the only 2nd player after Yang Yang to win the men's singles championship, after taking the gold medal in the world Badminton Championships. Among the tournaments he has won are the All England Open (2004, 2006 & 2007), the China Masters and the Thomas Cup in 2004 and 2006. Still, concerns about Lin's volitile personality make some commenters nervous about having him represent China. Who knows if fists and feathers will fly again? On the other hand, there is nothing more entertaining to watch than the spectacle of a testosterone-induced impromptu brawl. The anonymous concerned fan concludes: "What they care about is whether Lin will win gold.... If we send this kind of person to compete on the international stage, it's a shame for China's badminton." This gold medal may come with a side-order of lost face. Regardless, it's simply another one of many exciting subplots to what could be one of the most dramatic Olympics in recent memory.
That's all for now, folks. We hope you've enjoyed this short look at China's top Olympic medal prospects. Stay tuned to for more Olympic coverage, and let us know what your thoughts are on the competition and the competitors.
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