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Zhang tracking a bright future

China Daily | Updated: 2017-09-12 08:03

Zhang tracking a bright future

Zhang Peimeng salutes the crowd after leading national team members Su Bingtian, Xie Zhengye and Wu Zhiqiang to victory in the 4x100m relay at the Chinese National Games in Tianjin on Sept 7. [Photo/Xinhua]

Former sprinter plans to pursue coaching career

When runner Zhang Peimeng was told he had bone cancer at the age of 22, he could not imagine one day becoming a landmark figure in Chinese athletics.

Fast-forward eight years to last Friday's announcement that Zhang was finally hanging up his spikes at the conclusion of the 13th Chinese National Games in Tianjin. Now 30, his name will live in history as the first Chinese male to nudge the 10-second mark in the 100 meters.

"I feel like there are thousands of words at the tip of my tongue, but I'm suddenly at loss for what to say," said Zhang, who bid farewell with a gold medal in the 4x100m relay, alongside national teammates Su Bingtian, Xie Zhenye and Wu Zhiqiang.

"I don't want to say goodbye. It is as if I am not leaving if I don't say 'it's the last time'," he added.

Zhang tried in vain to reach a 100m final at either the World Championships or the Olympic Games. The one time he was closest to his goal was in the semifinal of the 2013 Moscow World Championships, when he clocked a national record but was .0009 of a second short of the final.

Zhang's 10s are surely a far cry from Jamaican legend Usain Bolt's world record of 9.58, but are as significant for China as Bolt's record is to the world.

Zhang's achievements opened the door to the possibility that a Chinese sprinter could reach the crown jewel of athletics. Less than two years after Zhang's Moscow race, Su Bingtian, two years younger, made a breakthrough, setting the new national record of 9.99 at the Eugene Grand Prix in the US.

Three months after that, Su stormed into the 2015 Beijing World Championships final, marking another milestone in China's sports history.

"It is hard to summarize the progress of Chinese athletics in the past decade in a few sentences. I already lost my national record but I am happy because I consider myself a pioneer, a stepping stone as Su, Xie and other younger runners can follow my steps to see farther, reach higher and dream bigger," Zhang said. "I have done my part for Chinese athletics and I have no regret in this aspect."

Zhang was born in Beijing to parents who were brilliant athletes. His father, Zhang Cheng, was a former Asian record holder in pole vault and his mother was a former high jumper.

Zhang showed his talent at an early age, clocking 10.5 seconds in the 100 when he was 17. But it wasn't until a few years later when he met Li Qing, a coach at Tsinghua University, that he decided to be a serious runner.

In 2007, Zhang won his first 100m national title and had a bright future ahead of him until weeks before the 2009 National Games, when he went to see a doctor to treat his aching knee cap. The doctor informed Zhang's parents their son had bone cancer.

Later, when Zhang Cheng sent his son's examination results to other doctors for a second opinion, the diagnosis proved false.

Zhang Peimeng changed a lot after that scare. He became a more dedicated and determined athlete who cherished his career. At the 2015 Beijing Worlds, along with Su, Xie and Mo Youxue, he pushed China's athletics to a new height, winning silver in the 4x100m.

"I am really grateful for my teammates. We fought together and pushed each other forward," he said.

Now that he's retired, Zhang is following in coach Li's footsteps as a coach at Tsinghua.

"That's my way to give back something back to the sport," he said.

Xinhua

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