Li Lishan

------HK Olympic champ avoids hype 07-26-2004 16:05

Hong Kong is one of China's Special Administrative Regions and most vibrant economic hubs. Although it has a small population of approximately six million people, it also boasts an Olympic champion, Li Lishan, sailboard gold medalist at the 1996 Atlanta Games. Amid so much glory and fame in recent years, she has been concentrating on progress, never looking back.

It is a typical hot but peaceful July afternoon in Hong Kong. Li Lishan, only 24, but already a renowned figure, is training like any beginner in a small tranquil village.

Media in Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland have been fervently chasing the sailboard Olympic gold medalist, but she prefers to avoid the hype and focus on training. She says a low profile means there is always room for improvement.

In 1970, Li Lishan was born into a poor fisherman's family in Hong Kong. She quickly fell in love with the sea when fishing with her father, and the hard life helped mould her strong character. But she didn't follow in her father's footsteps. Instead, she wanted to become something her parents never imagined: a sportswoman.

She won her first gold medal in a regional event when she was only 14, and her talent and hard work translated into many regional, Asian and world titles. Her sporting career culminated in 1996 when she clinched the Mistral category in the sailboard event at the Atlanta Olympics. It was the first Olympic gold for the region with only 6 million people and little sporting infrastructure.

8 years have passed since Hong Kong people burst out into an Olympic craze resulted from their first gold. The passion has never subsided, instead it has been soaring since the region's return to China in 1997.

Li Lishan's life remains unchanged: training more intensively, and shuttling between her hometown and the Chinese mainland several times a year to compete in national and international events. She has never thought about quitting, because she wants to prove herself after a major setback in Sydney when she finished sixth.

Sailboarding is called "the sport of isolation", since an athlete is adrift on the sea most of the time. But Li says she's never lonely, because her coach and husband, Huang Desen, is always with her.

Li Lishan commented on her husband like this, "He is my coach in training, but at home, he is my husband. This is clear-cut."

Huang Deshen immediately confirmed what Li had said, "There is no problem for us to deal with two different relationships."

Li said, "I can only give myself 50 points out of 100 as a housewife. I spend too much time on training, so I have little time to take care of him. But I often do cooking and washing at home."

Carrying one of China's biggest hopes for gold at Athens, the couple is working around the clock to prepare for what is probably Li's last Olympic appearance.

Huang Desen told reporter, "No matter where she finishes in Athens, I'll be very satisfied. The most important thing is that she feels happy in the sport."

Li Lishan hopes is looking forward to a new role as a a mother after the Athens Games, but the 2008 Olympics in Beijing also beckon. It's a tough decision, and time is on her side.


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