Sunday Sports

Pent-up ambition

By Lei Lei (China Daily)
Updated: 2011-06-12 08:45
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 Pent-up ambition

China's Chen Qian competes in the equestrian event during the modern pentathlon World Cup's fourth stop in Chengdu, Sichuan, last month. Cui Meng / China Daily

Pent-up ambition

China's first Olympic gold medalist, Xu, is now keen to take rising sport to new heights at the London Games, Lei Lei reports.

In 1984, Xu Haifeng etched his name into Olympic history by winning China's first ever Olympic gold in the men's 50m pistol. Nearly three decades later, Xu is aiming to rewrite China's sports history again - this time in the modern pentathlon.

After heading the sport for six and a half years, Xu is expecting a breakthrough for the country at the London 2012 Olympic Games.

"I hope the team can reach the goals it sets before the Olympics," Xu told China Daily on the sidelines of the Modern Pentathlon World Cup's fourth stop in Chengdu, Sichuan province.

"I never ask the team to gain gold medals or medals, but I hope it can show its fighting spirit and achieve its best results. Of course, I also hope it can win medals at the London Games."

After being a successful shooter and shooting coach whose compatriots, Li Duihong and Tao Luna, continued his legacy by clinching two more Olympic golds in 1996 and 2000, Xu took the helm of China's modern pentathlon team in November 2004 and started to lift the sport from a low-level one to an Olympic medal chance.

"I have had to be in charge of many things after taking the position," said Xu, who is now the vice-director of China's Cycling and Fencing Administrative Center. "The sport was used to be low level at the beginning, we had a lack of reserve teams and money for training and competitions. Now the situation has improved through the efforts of all of our staff."

When Xu took the position in 2004 there were about 80 pentathletes throughout China, which made it difficult to unearth young talent. Now that number has increased to 180, thanks to his efforts.

After studying the rules for months, Xu's competitive insight quickly paid off.

Nine months after he took the position, China's Qian Zhenhua became the first Asian world champion at the 2005 Pentathlon World Championships in Warsaw.

Four years later, Chen Qian was crowned women's world champion.

European athletes have dominated the sport, which entails shooting, fencing, swimming, horse jumping and running, since it became an Olympic event in 1912.

At the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, Qian finished fourth and Chen settled for fifth, which were the best results thus far for Chinese pentathlon athletes at the Olympics.

After Qian's retirement, Cao Zhongrong emerged as the new leader of the team and he finished fourth at the World Championships last year.

"The modern pentathlon is a very complicated sport. It features five different disciplines which require totally different skills and cooperation between people and animals," Xu said.

"The lack of reserve talent made it difficult for us to find more athletes, but the achievements we have made in recent years have boosted our confidence a lot. Our overall strength is growing and now the Chinese know that we can also succeed in this sport.

"Now, the budget for training has increased to about 2 million yuan ($30.87 million) from hundreds of thousands of yuan at the beginning. We can send more athletes to compete abroad at high-level events."

As an experienced athlete and coach in shooting, Xu showed the team the right way to train soon after taking over as head of the sport.

"All the sports are closely linked, so I know the most important thing is to build confidence in the team. It should not only be a slogan, but it also has to be implemented in daily training," Xu said.

"To help the athletes get used to competitions, we reformed the traditional training methods and combined daily training with real competitions. We organized more competitions for the athletes and pushed them to get used to competitions.

"Through years of effort, we now have more and more athletes in finals at major international competitions, such as the World Championships and World Cup series, which is the first step en route to standing on the podium."

Three women and two men athletes earned their tickets to the London Olympics at the Asian Championships last month, which means China has attained its full complement at the Games as only two women and two men are allowed from one country at the Games. However, Xu is far from satisfied.

"Such a result is acceptable, but I still hope more athletes could qualify as that would boost the competitiveness of the team during preparations for the Games," he said.

"We will send more athletes to take part in competitions that reward them points for Olympic qualification, since all the world's top 25 will qualify for the Games. I won't be relying on any particular athlete. All of them have the opportunity to make the squad."

Pent-up ambition

(China Daily 06/12/2011 page16)

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