Sang Lan raised her arms shoulder high, the gestures growing more animated as
she talked about next year's 2008 Olympics.
She carried the torch three years ago for the Athens Games. It could be even
more stirring doing it at home next year, part of a journey that will take the
Olympic flame to five continents in 130 days.
"I was so lucky to take part in it
before," Sang said, brushing the hair off her forehead. "I would consider it a
top honor to do it again."
Similar to her sweeping arm gestures, Sang's use of the word "luck" belies
her condition. Once a promising Olympic athlete, she sits in a black wheelchair
outside her dormitory at Peking University, paralyzed from her upper chest down
after her spine was injured nine years ago.
Attempting a forward vault in a warmup at the Goodwill Games in New York, one
of China's strongest young vaulters lost control in midair _ distracted, she
said, by a rival coach who approached the landing area. She struck the ground
A national heroine when the accident occurred, Sang remains famous. The
26-year-old has been a TV talk-show host _ "Sang Lan Olympics 2008" was part of
Beijing's successful bid committee _ and had a miniseries produced about her
She should be one of the most visible faces of next year's Olympics, hoping
to get to every venue "to see every event," trying to make up for the Olympic
gold she never had a chance to win.
"When I was injured I suddenly realized I had no chance to be in the
Olympics," Sang said. "The first thing that came to mind was: 'This is the end.
I can never be an Olympic athlete."'
Sang's spirit in the face of her devastating injury made her a celebrity in
New York during almost a year of rehabilitation. She and then-mayor Rudolph
Giuliani pressed the button that sent the famous ball in Times Square on its
ritual descent on New Year's Eve. And Tipper Gore presented her with an award
"I'll never forget my 10 months in the United States," Sang said, using
English occasionally but preferring Chinese. "The Americans showed me their love
and made me feel warm. When I felt lonely, they gave me a huge, warm hug. It was
massive support for me."
Dr. Kristjan T. Ragnarsson treated Sang at New York's Mount Sinai Medical
Center, and he wrote emotionally about her in a recent e-mail. He has been
treating spinal cord injuries for 36 years and called Sang among his "most