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Long road ahead for disabled marathoners

China Daily | Updated: 2021-10-29 08:47
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XI'AN-Forty-seven hardy souls braved Tuesday's marathon event at China's 11th National Games for Persons with Disabilities in Xi'an.

Tian Yajuan, 23, was among the field, and as a National Games debutant declared herself more than happy with her fifth-place finish in the T54 category.

"I took up the sport two years ago. As a rookie, I'd like to try more major events. Compared with other competitions, the marathon strengthens my mind better," Tian told Xinhua.

Zhang Yong of Shanghai, a silver medalist at the Tokyo Paralympics, won the men's T54 category, clocking 1:25:25.

"The marathon is a tough event that showcases our great determination and a spirit of never giving up," said Zhang.

"Any wheelchair athlete without a strong mentality would not be able to finish the event."

After completing the marathon, China's elite Paralympians Zhou Zhaoqian and Zhou Hongzhuan remarkably continued to compete in the afternoon session.

"I love the marathon, because when I run on the road, I am very happy," said hearing-impaired athlete Dorje Tsering of Qinghai province.

Zou Lihong, the women's T54 gold medalist at the 2016 Rio Paralympics, topped the podium on Tuesday, clocking 1:43:39.

The 37-year-old failed to defend her title at the Tokyo Paralympics when her glove came loose, hampering her ability to propel herself with sufficient force. This week, however, Zou was well prepared for the rainy conditions in Xi'an.

"I noticed the weather forecast, glued and sewed the gloves together in order to prevent a repeat of my Tokyo disaster," Zou said.

Zou's gloves fitted a bit too tightly. After crossing the finish line, she discovered that the skin on her hand had chafed badly.

Zou and Tian room together when on national duty with Team China. Tian told Xinhua that, as an elite athlete, Zou has taught her a lot.

"If young teammates ever want to give up or cut their training short, I give them some tips on how to use their explosive power effectively. I join them in their training sessions. Then the younger athletes can build their confidence, and their fitness will gradually improve," Zou said.

After the National Games, Zou plans to take a break from competition to focus on her personal life. But the veteran said she could return to competition in two years' time, simply because she loves the sport so much.

In recent years, marathon running has flourished in China, but there are still few events around the country that cater specifically to wheelchair athletes.

"We only train on the road once a month, because it's not safe enough for us to do so regularly. Apart from the Chengdu Marathon, no other event was open to professional wheelchair athletes," lamented Dai Yunqiang, who finished fourth at the 2012 London Paralympics.

"Famous international marathons such as those in Tokyo and New York include a wheelchair race. Around 40 competitors register to take part. If the Xi'an Marathon includes this group in the future, I'd like to compete on home ground," Zou said.

Zhang reckons opening more marathons to people with disabilities would improve China's results at major international events.

"In 2017, I had a flat tire during the New York Marathon. But at the time I didn't even know that I ought to use special tires for road races," the 29-year-old said.

"I hope that we can have more marathon events in China."


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