Freestyle aerialist striving again for Olympic gold
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.”
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.