Shot put gold no longer eludes Gong Li­jiao

Af­ter a decade of dis­ap­point­ment, Chinese shot put­ter fi­nally de­liv­ers

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE -

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.”

KAI PFAFFENBACH / REUTERS

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.

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