sharing the Olympic spirit
OLYMPICS/ Team China

Luan Jujie's coming home, still a hit at 50
By Jules Quartly (China Daily)
Updated: 2008-04-30 09:00


At a time when most people have either achieved their dreams or given up on them, Asia's first Olympic gold-medal winner in fencing, Luan Jujie, will be competing at her fourth Games, aged 50.

It will be a homecoming party for the Chinese icon who now lives in Canada and will be representing the country for the second time at an Olympics.

Chinese CanadianLuan Jujie, who won a gold medal in women's foil for China at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, will compete in August's Beijing Games at the age of 50. [China Daily]

"My first dream was to win gold at the Olympics in 1984. The second was to compete at an Olympics in my home country. If it wasn't in Bejing I wouldn't have even bothered," Luan says by phone from Edmonton, Canada, where she runs a fencing academy.

Her Olympic qualification has created a buzz that is attracting media from around the world to line up at her door. Literally. The mother of three is packing for a visit to China and her daughter has a hospital appointment. It sounds frantic, but her husband Gu Dajin says this is a typical day in the life of his wife and family.

Born in the capital of Jiangsu province, Nanjing, Luan was one of seven children and trained in high jump and volleyball before taking up fencing at the comparatively late age of 16. Just one year later she was in the national team and taking domestic titles.

She first came to the nation's attention in 1977 at the world junior championships when she removed a blade that snapped off in her left, foil arm. Even so, she continued fencing, winning the silver medal and her heroism was popularized in a book.

"This moved the people, they therefore remembered my name," she says about the incident. "Actually, I wasn't trying to be a hero. As an athlete, if you come across a setback and flinch then you're not a true athlete."

Luan became a legend at China's first summer Olympics in Los Angeles, 1984, when she struck gold. She also competed at the 1988 edition before coaching the national team for 10 years and earning a degree in sports management.

She emigrated to Canada in 1989 and became a citizen five years later, but this did not stop her being celebrated in 1999 as one of China's top 50 sports stars since the founding of the People's Republic of China.

Called "Asia's First Foil", her story became a textbook example of how to succeed in sport. A hit movie was made celebrating her life and a stamp bearing her likeness was issued in 2006.

"If she wants something, she doesn't care if others say she cannot achieve it," says Diane Redeker, a manager at Luan's Edmonton club. "She is a wonderful coach. She makes her fencers feel that the sky is the limit."

She obviously thrives on pressure and lunging for goals. After retiring from Olympic competition for 12 years she decided to return to the piste and made it onto the Canadian team for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney - though she was eliminated in the first round.

"I am doing it for the sports," she says. "It doesn't matter which country. If I win I'm happy and if I lose I'm happy. At least I tried. Some people think I'm too old but that just means I have nothing to lose.

"I go crazy trying. I love my country, that's why I tried to get to another Olympics. China has developed so fast, I wanted to come back and say how thankful I was for everything."

She says she also loves her adopted country, Canada. There are no national boundaries in sports, she argues, but admits she wouldn't have had the opportunity to compete for China again, which is more competitive and has good young fencers.

She reckons her forte is patience and technique, allied with a never-say-die attitude. That's why she's still able to beat younger fencers. She says her experience, mental strength and intelligence give her an edge though she is realistic enough to admit her reflexes have slowed and "my physical ability is inferior".

"My body is different from 30 years ago. After I go to sleep and wake up it still hurts after a day of competition or tough training. It doesn't recover like it used to. But my heart is strong and that is everything."


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