OLYMPICS / Team China

A stitch in time wins gold for China's female athletes
By Zhao Rui
China daily Staff Writer
Updated: 2008-08-15 09:14


Confidence, determination, a strong mind, all these things have helped fuel China's dominating women's athletes at the Beijing Olympics. But there is something else behind the medals most fans might not be able to see: embroidery.

Stitch work may have little to do with winning gold medals, but the fact that six different Chinese gold medalists count it among their top spare-time hobbies, the needle and thread bears consideration as a factor behind the success of some of China's newest national heroes.

So why would a top-level athlete look to a craft requiring so much patience and concentration to pass the time?

"Satisfaction," said weightlifter Liu Chunhong, who won the women's -62kg gold medal on Wednesday. "It provides great satisfaction and excitement when you finish an embroidery. I cannot tell you how much it satisfies me; you will understand when you do it yourself.

"You probably spend four or five days finishing it, then you look at it and you feel you are the best in the world.

"I have a pillow to finish after I'm done with the Olympic competition."

Liu, who also happens to be one of the best weightlifters in the world having broken five world records on her way to gold, is not alone in her love for embroidery on the weightlifting team: Chen Xiexia, who won China's first gold in Beijing in the women's -48kg, and Chen Yanqing, a -58kg gold medalist, are also enthusiastic stitchers.

It's a hobby popular throughout China's Olympic teams. Diving queens Guo Jingjing and Wu Minxia, 3m springboard gold medalists, are both known for their embroidery, while 25m-pistol winner Chen Ying is just getting into stitch work.

Several athletes who have yet to win gold are stitchers too, including badminton singles defending champion Zhang Ning, women's basketballers Sui Feifei and Bian Lan, and triathlete Xing Lin. Members of the canoeing and athletics teams are known to be embroidery enthusiasts as well.

The embroidery these athletes fancy is not the traditional Chinese, silk-thread kind. The "cross-stitch" technique is less demanding, but the rewards are nearly as big.

Cross-stitch originated in Europe and was improved upon by South Koreans, who added some cartoonish elements and made it a popular hobby among Chinese school girls.

"The stitch brings us a lot of fun," Chen said. "People think we must live an exciting life and be in the spotlight all the time, but actually an athlete's life is very boring. We live in the training base, wake up and go to the shooting range, then I come back and sleep. That's my life.

"But stitch gives us something to look forward to after training. You do it needle by needle and maybe after three or four days, you can see a cute piece of work. I simply love it."

China boasts one of the most powerful sports regimes in the world, as well as one of the longest training seasons. Its basketball team started Olympic closed-door training in March and the shooting squad began in January.

Chinese coaches did not approve of cross-stitch at first, but they have gradually come to accept it.

"I didn't know what it was at the very beginning, I just thought it was a waste of time," said weightlifting coach Chen Wenbin. "But all my women lifters love it. They train really hard, so I finally said 'OK, do it', and now cross-stitch has become a part of the team."

There is no such universal hobby for China's male athletes, however. Some are avid computer gamers, including basketball superstar Yao Ming, who is said to be an expert at the first-person shooter "Counter-Strike". 110m hurdling defending champion Liu Xiang has been caught at KTV clubs. Other music fans include - 69kg weightlifting gold medalist Liao Hui, who plays harp, and -62kg champion Zhang Xiangxiang who likes to strum a guitar after training.

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