High­fly­ing dream

Freestyle aeri­al­ist striv­ing again for Olym­pic gold

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By LEI LEI leilei@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Xu Meng­tao re­turned like a champ.

In her first com­pe­ti­tion since un­der­go­ing surgery to re­pair her left knee 10 months ago, Xu won the sea­son-open­ing World Cup freestyle ae­ri­als event on home soil over the week­end.

It was her 17 th ca­reer top-podium spot and a strong in­di­ca­tor she’s prim­ing for a run at Olym­pic gold in 2018.

“I used to feel I was so close to be­ing an Olym­pic cham­pion, but my ac­ci­dent 10 months ago made me think about it more. What I’m think­ing of now is to not let my­self down,” Xu said af­ter win­ning the com­pe­ti­tion at Bei­dahu in Jilin prov­ince on Satur­day.

“The Olym­pic gold medal is what I’m striv­ing for, and I know it will take time. I still have to work hard ev­ery day for it,” said the 26-year-old na­tive of Liaon­ing prov­ince, who is the de facto team leader of China’s women’s freestyle ae­ri­als team.

At the Na­tional Win­ter Games in Xin­jiang in Jan­uary, Xu, the sil­ver medal­ist at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, crashed while land­ing her fi­nal jump and rup­tured the cru­ci­ate liga­ments in her left knee.

She un­der­went surgery on Feb 3 and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion was ex­pected to take at least 18 months, but her strong desire to re­turn to com­pe­ti­tion pulled her back to train­ing in only seven months.

“I wasn’t in good form be­fore the Na­tional Win­ter Games, so the in­jury just gave me a pe­riod of rest,” Xu told China Daily.

“I never thought of giv­ing up my ca­reer, even when I didn’t know whether I could re­gain my form af­ter the surgery. I love ski­ing and I love com­pe­ti­tion. The Olym­pic cham­pi­onship is al­ways my goal.”

Xu’s 14-year ca­reer was a rel­a­tively smooth one be­fore her lat­est surgery. She placed sixth in her Olym­pic de­but at Van­cou­ver in 2010, then made the podium in 18 suc­ces­sive events, in­clud­ing 11 wins from 2011-13 en route to claim­ing her first world cham­pi­onship in Nor­way in 2013.

At Sochi, Xu failed to stick the land­ing on her last jump and had to set­tle for a sil­ver be­hind Alla Tsu­per of Be­larus.

China’s women’s freestyle ae­ri­als team has long dom­i­nated the World Cup and world cham­pi­onships, but has never won an Olym­pic gold medal. Li Nina, who won mul­ti­ple World Cup events and world cham­pi­onships, re­tired with a sec­ond sil­ver medal af­ter the Van­cou­ver Games, and came back to fin­ish only fourth at the Sochi Games.

Now, Xu is ready to pick up the torch for China.

“The ae­ri­als is a charm­ing and chal­leng­ing event, which at­tracted me the most. Do­ing this sport with the Olym­pic gold medal dream makes me feel my own value,” Xu said.

“For the 2018 Olympics, my goal is def­i­nitely the gold medal. I won’t prom­ise to win, but I prom­ise to do my best to let no­body down.” Li hailed Xu’s po­ten­tial. “Xu is per­form­ing very well right now. I be­lieve she can claim the gold for China at the Pyeongchang Olympics,” Li said.

“She was young at the pre­vi­ous two Games and was not so strong in deal­ing with the pres­sure. In the fu­ture, I think it is highly pos­si­ble for her to win Olym­pic gold.”

Xu is now train­ing with the na­tional team in Shenyang, Liaon­ing prov­ince.

“My plan for this sea­son is still re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion, so I won’t set any goal for the com­pe­ti­tions,” Xu said. “I want to start from the very be­gin­ning and make steady progress to­ward the 2018 Win­ter Games.”

LIN HONG / XIN­HUA

Xu Meng­tao ex­e­cutes a spin en route to win­ning the FIS World Cup freestyle ae­ri­als event at Bei­dahu ski re­sort in Jilin on Satur­day. It was the 17th top-podium fin­ish of Xu’s ca­reer.

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