Shot put gold no longer eludes Gong Lijiao
After a decade of disappointment, Chinese shot putter finally delivers
LONDON — The sixth time proved the charm for China’s veteran shot putter Gong Lijiao, whose dream of being a global champion finally came true on Wednesday.
In her sixth world championships, the 28-year-old from Shijiazhuang, Hebei province, led the final from the second round en route to claiming the gold medal that had eluded her for a decade.
“I am so excited, so thrilled. I have been dreaming of this moment my whole life and now it came true. To tell the truth, I still feel surreal,” said Gong, whose winning throw of 19.94 meters edged Rio Olympic bronze medalist Anita Marton of Hungary and Olympic champion Michelle Carter of the US, who finished second and third respectively..
“I was actually a little concerned with my form because I was below my peak in the year after the Olympic Games,” Gong said.
She might not have been at her peak, but Gong had already won three Diamond League titles this season and proved to be the strongest in a tough field on Wednesday.
Leading her rivals from the second throw, when she notched a distance of 19.35m, Gong improved to 19.94 on the fifth throw to secure the win.
“The second attempt put me in the lead, but I was worried someone would make a better throw because 19.35 was really not that convincing,” she said. “I knew I had secured the victory after the fifth attempt.”
Gong was left delighted with China’s first shot title since Huang Zhihong won her second gold in Stuttgart in 1993, saying: “I was a bit worried about my condition because two years ago I was heading for gold and I changed a couple of things.
“I competed more this year to be ready for these championships.
“It is 24 years since China won a shot put gold, so it’s a very special moment for me. Of course, the rain affected the competition and that is the reason we didn’t go past 20 meters tonight.”
Before the London trip, Gong had competed in five world championships, earning one silver and two bronzes since making her name at the 2007 worlds in Osaka, where the then 18-year-old finished seventh with a throw of 18.66m.
She has also taken part in three Olympic Games, collecting one silver and one bronze, and two editions of the World Indoor Championships, taking bronze in 2014.
But until Wednesday she had never managed to set foot on the top of the podium in any major international competition.
The 2015 world championships in Beijing could have been a good chance for Gong to break the jinx. Competing on home soil, she produced a big throw of 20.30m in the opening round but had to settle for silver after Germany’s Christina Schwanitz edged her by seven centimeters in the final round.
The Olympic Games in Rio saw another setback. Boosted by her career best of 20.43m set three months earlier, Gong arrived in Brazil with high expectations but finished a disappointing fourth at 19.39m.
“The Rio setback hit me pretty hard. It took me a long time to walk out of the shadow,” said Gong.
“I have worked so hard for this day. Now looking back, everything I did was worthwhile.”
When the victory finally arrived, Gong is filled with confidence and immediately set another high bar for her career.
“My next goal is to win the 2020 Tokyo Olympics,” said Gong, who will then be 31.
“My memories of London 2012 are mixed because I was third originally, then I was moved to second later.
“I didn’t like the way that happened, so I am glad to show all the hard work I’ve done in the past paid off with this gold medal.”
China’s Gong Lijiao unloads her winning throw of 19.94 meters in Wednesday’s women’s shot put final at the World Athletics Championships at London Stadium.