Smooth seas ahead

Updated: 2012-09-20 02:04

By Sun Xiaochen (China Daily)

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Xu Lijia is proud of her sailing gold medal, but she wants a quick return to normal life, Sun Xiaochen writes.

Winning is good, but hold the applause and toasts. That's what Chinese sailor Xu Lijia hopes for after unexpectedly rising to stardom as swimming prodigies Sun Yang and Ye Shiwen did following her London Olympics triumph. The 24-year-old marked another milestone in sailing for her country by delivering its first Laser Radial class gold medal at the Games. That followed compatriot Yin Jian's victory in the RS-X category at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

However, the quiet-spoken Xu, who loves reading and surfing the Web in her spare time, doesn't like to be in the spotlight.

"I actually didn't enjoy the high-profile life after the Olympics. There was too much exposure and media hype around," Xu told China Daily recently, after attending a series of celebratory events nationwide.

"I already started to miss my little boat and the days sailing between the blue sky and sea."

Xu has not trained since the London Games.

After receiving a warm ovation from President Hu Jintao and Sports Minister Liu Peng at the Great Hall of the People after her return, Xu appeared in Hong Kong to inspire local youngsters with other Olympians before traveling to Zhejiang and Shandong provinces during the national sailing championships to promote the event earlier this month.

Even in her hometown of Shanghai, Xu didn't have much time to spend with her parents.

Her schedule was packed with special events until last week, when she returned to Shanghai Jiao Tong University to continue her undergraduate studies.

"I hope I won't be recognized by so many people in the street and I can keep my privacy," Xu said. "I still want to hang out with my friends, go shopping and take the subway. I don't want to wear huge sunglasses everywhere, like Sun Yang did."

Ready or not, Xu knows she has to handle the limelight because the sport needs a star in China.

"I know it's a good time to introduce the event to the public. So I try to do as good a job as I can and try to enjoy the celebrity status," Xu said.

Boasting decent English, social skills and an amiable character, Xu has been hailed by the media as the sport's own Li Na or Yao Ming, someone who might trigger more interest in sailing and show the world the new image of China's modern sports celebrities.

Xu just feels proud to be the new spokeswoman for Chinese sailing.

"It's more important for more Chinese to understand sailing than for me to become famous," Xu said. "Mentally, I prepared better (for the victory) this time than I did for the Beijing Olympics."

Xu won a bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics behind Anne Tunnicliffe (US) and Gintare Volungeviciute (Lithuania).

"I love to see people impressed that a Chinese girl has done as well as the westerners in this not-so-popular event," she said.

Xu, who originally trained as a swimmer, started to sail Optimist class boats at the age of 10 in 1997 and won her first international title at the Asian Championships in 1999.

"I thought sailing was more interesting than swimming as we have a much bigger stage than just a pool. We have the whole ocean," Xu said.

She moved on to claim consecutive Optimist world titles in 2001 and 2002 and progressed to the Europe dinghy, an Olympic event, in 2003.

However, surgery to remove a tumor dashed her hopes of competing at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

Xu had the operation near her left knee in 2003 and spent half a year recovering her fitness and skills.

Still, Xu took something positive out of the career-threatening setback.

"You only find something is precious after losing it," Xu said. "I used to get bored with training, but I desperately wanted to return to my boat during my rehabilitation.

"Without the surgery, I wouldn't have realized how deeply I love the sport and my passion for it. I really started to practice harder and my heart was fully into it."

All the pain and sweat paid off at the 2006 World Championships, where Xu grabbed her first Laser Radial title after eight months in the class, then went on to consistently place at the top of the world circuit.

"I consider myself an actress, and I try to put on the best show every time — no matter how hard it is," she said.

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