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Paralympians return in golden glory
By Yu Zhong (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-10-01 00:56

Without arms, He Junquan, a 26-year-old from Central China's Hubei Province, is still an excellent swimmer, excellent enough to have pocketed four gold medals in the Athens Paralympics which concluded on September 28.

Members of the Chinese Paralympic Delegation wave to people welcoming them home at the Capital Airport yesterday. The athletes won 63 golds, 46 silvers and 32 bronzes, placing them at the top of the medal charts for the games in Athens. [newsphoto]

"I never believed that I could win four golds," said the champion, wearing a smile with his four golds.

He, together with all the other Chinese Paralympians, gave the nation a surprise with their superb performance.

Struck by high voltage electricity, he lost both of his arms at the age of three.

But luck was on his side nine years later when he won a chance to swim for his city.

In 1995, the 17-year-old took part in a provincial selection trial with the encouragement of his first coach, who passed away right before He's departure for Athens.

"To win the trial, the coach took me to practice in a public bathhouse every day," he said.

At the 11th Sydney Paralympics, He was the gold medal winner in the mens 50 metres butterfly.

This triumph was quadrupled in 2004 with his victories in the backstroke, butterfly, individual medley and free style relay competitions.

Li Duan, a blind double gold medallist in the long jump, shares He's wish for more golds in the 2008 Beijing Paralympics.

Li was an army man before he lost his eyesight in an accident at the age of 18.

In the 11th Paralympics in Sydney, he won a silver and a bronze.

"The silver and bronze can have the national flag flying but can never have the anthem played. For a blind athlete like me, the biggest wish is to hear the national anthem," Li said.

To realize his dream, Li exhausted himself day after day with extra training.

He fulfilled his dream this summer as the Chinese national anthem played after his long jump victories.

The amazing medal haul of 63 golds by the Chinese team astounded the world but not the coaches, who always believed in their athletes.

"Though most of our athletes are young and inexperienced, we had good preparation before the Games," said Zhang Honggu, chief coach of swimming.

"Actually, our rivals also become stronger. But our athletes made good their abilities during the Games and kept cool heads. "

President of the China Paralympic Committee Wang Xinxian said 26 gold medals were won by new athletes, which bolsters the nation's confidence ahead of the 13th Games in Beijing in four years.

"In the past Games, we maintained advantages in our best events such as athletics and swimming. But happily, some of the areas in which we made debuts this time round also brought great success, such as the women's sitting volleyball," said Wang.

President of the China Disabled Persons' Federation Deng Pufang said: "We will try our best to participate in all the events in the 2008 Paralympics."

The 12-day-long Athens Paralympics saw China's sweeping victory in the final medal standings in terms of both gold medals and total medals.

Ranked sixth on the gold medal table in Sydney, China attained in Athens a total of 141 medals, 63 of them gold.

Britain was second with 93 medals and Canada third on 72 medals.

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