For some, last week's test event at the Bird's Nest was only the start of an Olympic journey. But for China's long distance runner Sun Yingjie and most other athletes there, it was the last chance to perform in the iconic stadium.
Sun, the former long distance running star returned from Olympic ban and resumed training last year, but failed to earn enough points to qualify for the Beijing Games. The 2003 World Championships 10,000m bronze medalist has confirmed that she will retire after the National Games next year.
At the Good Luck Beijing China Athletics Open, Sun finished only 12th among the 15 finalists in the women's 5,000m last Sunday. The disappointing result brought the 29-year-old veteran to tears.
"I was told I had not qualified for the China Open about one week before the event, and I was very sad because I thought it would be my last chance to qualify for the Beijing Olympics," Sun said, weeping.
"The shock made me ill for days, but the organizers changed their minds three days before and allowed me run the race. But I couldn't manage to finish the long distance so I gave up the 10,000m and only ran in the 5,000m and the result was very bad."
In 2005, Sun became the highest-profile casualty of China's anti-doping campaign when she tested positive for the banned steroid androsterone at the Tenth National Games in October. She was handed a two-year ban and returned to training last year.
Her long absence from competition cost her chances to accumulate enough points before the Beijing Olympics, even in marathon, her strongest event.
In 2003, Sun became the first Chinese woman and fourth woman in the world to break the 2 hour 20 minute time in a marathon, finishing the Beijing Marathon in 2:19:39.
The veteran runner was crushed when she learned she could not run in the Olympics, and when she heard she was out of the China Open as well, she thought she might give up completely.
"I was thinking of giving up all the races for the China Open, but it was my last opportunity to run in the Bird's Nest, so I decided to run the 5,000m," Sun said.
"I wanted to take part in the Olympic Games, but I have no chance now. But I got to experience the Olympic atmosphere in advance, which gave me a little relief."
The 2002 Asian Games 10,000m and 5,000m gold medalist struggled throughout the race at the Bird's Nest, even though the announcer in the stadium mistakenly said Sun was the leader for most of it.
"I heard the broadcaster while running and I'm thankful that people still remember me," she said. "I felt so sorry for running so poorly. I thought of withdrawing from the race, but I told myself I had to keep going."
It may be a low point in her career, but Sun still trusts herself and is eyeing a comeback at the Beijing International Marathon in October and the National Games next year.
"The Beijing International Marathon and the 11th National Games next year will be my last two competitions. It will be time for my retirement then," she said.
(China Daily 05/28/2008 page23)