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Xu is working her way back into shape after post-Olympic break
Xu Lijia, the 25-year-old who won China's first Olympic sailing gold medal in the women's Laser Radial class at the 2012 London Games, returned to competitive racing for the first time since her Olympic triumph when she finished 15th at the Sailing World Cup in Hyeres, France, in April.
Xu (pictured) says she is in no hurry to return to peak form, and just wants to get a feel for her boat this year.
"My plan is to reach about 50 percent of my peak form, maintain the level of world top 10 and not lag too far behind the other elite sailors," said Xu, who expects to spend more time studying and with her family this year.
"It's impossible for one to maintain top form, therefore we have deliberately structured a down period to allow for some adjustments, help the body to recover after the Olympics, and then make an effort to peak again in the next two years," she said.
Due to hypotension and hypoglycemia, Xu has to spend more time preparing her body than other sailors. That's her biggest challenge as she sets about being on top of the world again.
"I enjoy sailing, but sometimes I get distressed by the physically demanding nature of the singles event. It is no less tough than athletics, swimming and cycling," said Xu, who normally spends three to four hours in the gym each day.
"When I returned to the sport at the World Cup in France, my physical condition had dropped considerably (from the Olympics), which made me unable to play out my strategy. Though I have been training daily, my physical level is far from what it is required in the boat, and is the part I most need to improve."
Xu will race another two World Cup events, in the Netherlands and England this month, and then focus on the China National Games in September.
Though she took on a light racing schedule after the London Olympics, Xu has still been busy over the past year.
Her historic win at the 2012 Games has made her one of the sport's premier ambassadors in China.
To promote the sport, she took part in a number of sailing events after the Olympics, which also provided her with the opportunity to test her skills in a wide variety of boats.
Xu had her first experience on a multi-hull yacht when she was invited to join the crew of China Team at the America's Cup qualifiers in Naples, Italy, in April. She got another chance to sail on a similar craft when she was invited to the Extreme 40 Sailing Series in Qingdao this month.
"The speed of the catamaran is much faster than my dinghy, which seems to be too slow by comparison. It's like the difference between a normal car and F1 racing," said Xu, who joked that she was reluctant to get back in her "slow boat" during her appearance at the Qingdao race.
"There are five people on a catamaran, so teamwork and effective communication are crucial to good performances," she said. "The China team has an experienced skipper who has participated in five Olympics, and this should provide a good platform for China to produce its own sailors."
Xu said she may take up another type of sailing when she retires from competition.
"Sailing is a sport in which everyone can find a suitable kind of boat, whatever your age, gender or body shape," Xu said. "I will move to large sailboats after retiring ... for joy and relaxation and to voyage with my family and friends."
Sailing around the world is the dream of many sailors. China's Guo Chuan finished a solo, non-stop global voyage on a class 40 boat after being at sea for 138 days in April. Xu has received an invitation from a Swedish company, which is hoping to assemble a women's team to participate in the round-the-world Volvo Ocean Race.
However, she says she is not ready for such a challenge at the moment.
"I really admire Guo's accomplishment; to face the unpredictable environment at sea, the breakdown of equipment and loneliness for more than 100 days," Xu said. "These are all totally different from competitive sailing and I am not ready for such pressure."
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(China Daily 05/10/2013 page23)