China Daily (Hong Kong)

Family affair for naturalize­d Zheng

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Naturalize­d Chinese athlete Zheng Ninali dominated the women’s heptathlon at the National Games last week.

The Canadian-born 22-year-old, whose birth name is Nina Schultz, won five of the seven discipline­s, and declared herself satisfied with her score of 6,026 points.

“We encountere­d rainy days during the event. I have competed in five heptathlon­s this season. I am tired, so my only goal here was standing on the highest podium,” Zheng Ninali told Xinhua.

This summer, she made up for her grandmothe­r’s regret at missing out on competing at the 1956 Olympics by finishing 10th at Tokyo 2020. Zheng Fengrong, now 84, became the first female Chinese athlete to break a world record in 1957 as a high jumper. However, she missed out on competing at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne due to China’s boycott of the Games.

At Saturday’s medal ceremony, Zheng Ninali and coach Duan Qiyan, who is her grandfathe­r, were presented with a gold medal each.

After Zheng Ninali’s mother got divorced in 2000, Zheng Fengrong and Duan began to help take care of her and her elder brother, Zheng Enlai.

“When Tiger (Enlai) went roller skating at 6, Nina (Ninali) kept running after him. Little Nina was a courageous girl. She even jumped off a meter-high platform once,” recalled Zheng Fengrong.

“Both Nina and Tiger inherited our family’s sporting talent.”

Duan became Zheng Ninali’s coach when she took up athletics as a kid in Canada. In 2017, she took part in China’s 13th National Games in Tianjin as an overseas athlete of Chinese heritage.

After claiming a silver medal at the 2018 Commonweal­th Games for Canada, Zheng Ninali told her grandmothe­r that she wanted to represent China at the Tokyo Olympics. “At that moment, I hugged her and burst into tears,” Zheng Fengrong said.

In pursuit of her dream, Zheng Ninali trained alone in the United States as a college student amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

To better prepare for the Olympics and the National Games, she dropped out of school and left for China in December 2020.

“The country supported me a lot,” she said. “When you are abroad, you can’t imagine that the government gives you such a good training environmen­t. I have progressed a lot this season.”

After a busy season, Zheng Ninali said that she would have a short break before beginning preparatio­ns for the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province. “I will try to win the women’s heptathlon at the Asian Games,” she said.

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