Source: Xinhua

08-09-2008 08:42

Special Report:   2008 Beijing Olympic Games

BEIJING, Aug. 8 (Xinhua) -- Li Ning, who as a gymnast stunned the world with gravity-defying turns and somersaults, lit the Olympic cauldron after "space-walking" over the heads of 91,000 spectators at the National Stadium on Friday night.

Chinese gymnastics champion Li Ning carries the Olympic flame as he is lifted to the air during the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympic Games in the National Stadium in north Beijing, China, Aug. 8, 2008. (Xinhua/Qi Heng)
Chinese gymnastics champion Li Ning carries the Olympic flame as he 
is lifted to the air during the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympic 
Games in the National Stadium in north Beijing, China, Aug. 8, 2008. 
(Xinhua/Qi Heng)

In the most spectacular fashion in Olympic history, the 45-year-old Li was lifted by wires to the top of the stadium, simulated a racing around a track in slow motion and used his torch to send a burst of flame upward to light the cauldron.

Li was China's first sports superstar as well as the first millionaire former athlete. He became a national hero by sweeping three gold medals at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, in which the new China made a stunning appearance that ended the country's three-decade-long Olympics isolation.

Hailed as "Gymnastics Prince", Li garnered 106 national and international titles over 17 years as a competitor.

Li peaked as the most-medaled athlete in the LA Olympics, winning three golds, two silvers and one bronze.

Staying true to the Olympic motto "Faster, Higher, Stronger", Li sees a bigger picture and never stops challenging himself.

In 1988, Li Ning retired from the national team right after the Olympic Games in Seoul, but he did not become a coach as many had expected.

Shifting his interest to business, he started his own sportswear company, astute enough to take advantage of his own fame.

By 1995, Li-Ning had emerged as a front-runner in China's sporting goods industry. At the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Li-Ning was chosen to clothe the Chinese delegation.

In 2005, with his company in the lead in China and its sales hitting a record high, the ambitious Li set his sight on becoming a top international brand.

Born in 1963 in Guilin, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in south China, Li Ning took up gymnastics at the age of eight.

Recruited at 17 by the national team, Li snatched six gold medals at the Zagreb World Cup in October 1982.

In 1987, Li became the only Asian member of the Athletes' Commission of the International Olympic Committee.

From 1993 to 2000, Li had been working on the Men's Artistic Gymnastics Technical Committee of the Federation Internationale De Gymnastique.

Li was voted in 1999 as one of the World's Top Athletes in the 20th Century by the World Sports Press Association.

Li obtained a bachelor degree in law from Peking University in 1998 and completed the MBA program at the Guanghua School of Management of Peking University in 2002.

As Li-Ning's slogan "Anything Is Possible" goes, Li Ning was chosen, instead of Olympic champion Liu Xiang, Yao Ming or "Mr. Olympics" He Zhenliang, for the ultimate honor of lighting the Olympic cauldron.