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China's 'golden girl' recalls bumpy road to Olympic glory

By Yang Yang | | Updated: 2023-03-15 08:47
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"Milano Cortina 2026 might be my last Winter Olympics. Whatever the result will be, I have only one goal, that is to transcend my previous results," said freestyle skiing aerials Olympic champion Xu Mengtao, 33, at the 35th Beijing Book Fair.

The fair offered an opportunity for the athlete to meet readers of her autobiography Mingyun Fanzhuan (Fortune Flips).

Xu was born in Northeast China's Anshan city, Liaoning province, in 1990. Her parents ran a barbecue restaurant, where Xu would help out during holidays. She started her sports career at the tender age of 4 as a gymnast, before switching disciplines to freestyle skiing aerials at 12 years old, when she became considered too tall to continue gymnastics.

To date, Xu has won 55 freestyle skiing aerials championships, according to the International Ski Federation, including the gold she won in Beijing last year, at the age of 32, but they came at a cost.

Xu Mengtao (second from left) speaks at an event held during the 35th Beijing Book Fair, introducing her autobiography, Mingyun Fanzhuan (Fortune Flips).[Photo provided by Yang Yang/China Daily]

She has endured four operations on her knees, with more than 60 percent of the cartilage of the left knee removed. When she took part in the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics, there were steel pins in her knees. Like Vancouver in 2010 and Sochi in 2014, she aspired to clinch an Olympic gold medal. Xu, unfortunately, fell short, despite being in peak condition.

But failures, painful injuries and lonely months of recovery did not diminish her perseverance and determination to win an Olympic title.

Xu finally realized her dream in Beijing, on Feb 14, 2022, by completing three somersaults on her final jump, the most difficult maneuver in the event.

It was hard to hold back tears watching Xu on the TV shouting "Did I win? Did I win?" as her score came out. Millions of viewers around the world shared the moment with her.

In Mingyun Fanzhuan, Xu contemplatively records her true feelings about her life over the past 30 years, her memories of heart-stopping international competition, her medal tally, her dreams, the low points in her athletic life that she managed to overcome, the injuries and suffering, as well as the moments of glory.

She writes that she had created 406 tactical tables in the past 20 years to help her win.

To handle different situations caused by changing weather in just one Winter Olympics, she made five plans.

"Calculating each jump, reviewing each problem and analyzing each possibility is how I handle the uncertainty. The real situation is unpredictable, so I have to be fully prepared to march toward success," she writes in the book.

With 140,000 words and 67 photos, Mingyun Fanzhuan represents the fight and perseverance of everyone who is on a journey to flip their fortune. Since its launch in early January, more than 10,000 copies of the book have been sold. At the Beijing Book Fair, China National Publications Import and Export Group signed a contract with the publishers to release translated versions in the future.

"Although I am just one individual, through my experience people can see the development process of freestyle skiing aerials in China. Maybe my personal experience can inspire and encourage more people to pursue their dreams," Xu said at the book launch event in January.

"Don't stop trying. It's hard to tell when your efforts will pay off, but it will be surely at the most crucial moment," Xu said in a TV interview.

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