The athletes who did us proud at Tokyo Olympics

Yang Wenjie
The sterling performance of Chinese athletes winning 88 medals, including 38 gold, at 2020 Tokyo Olympic was helped by outstanding athletes from Minhang.
Yang Wenjie

Minhang residents are basking in the afterglow of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, where Chinese athletes won 88 medals, including 38 gold. The sterling performance was helped by outstanding athletes from Minhang. We witnessed their performances and cheered them on from afar.

The Minhang athletes include sculler Chen Yunxia, artistic gymnast Zhang Jin, hurdler Xie Wenjun, hockey player Cui Qiuxia, cyclist Xu Chao and swimmer Qin Haiyang.

We meet a few of them.

The athletes who did us proud at Tokyo Olympics
Ti Gong

Chen Yunxia (left) celebrates with her teammates after winning the championship of the women's quadruple sculls at Tokyo.

Sculler Chen Yunxia

Chinese rowers Chen Yunxia, Zhang Ling, Lu Yang, and Cui Xiaotong won the championship of the women's quadruple sculls, setting a new world record time of 6 minutes, 5.13 seconds. It was the second time that Team China won the event, after success at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

Chen, who studied and trained in Minhang, sat in the demanding position of first on the row, which is critical to balancing the scull.

"The medal has made everything worthwhile," Chen said of her long years of training. "I'm not alone in this; there are many people I feel grateful to."

It was the first time that Chen participated in an Olympics. She said the team concentrated on its performance, not winning a medal.

Nervous? Yes, to some degree, she admitted.

Born in 1995 in Tongliao, a small city in North China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Chen displayed talent in sports when she was young. At age of 12, she was inducted into the sports school to train in the long jump.

Her performances came to the attention of the track and field team at Qibao High School in Minhang in 2009. She was offered tuition-free enrollment and a scholarship.

"She was in great physical condition when we observed her," said Jin Deqiang, the retired long jump coach who discovered Chen. "She was 1.77 meters tall and had solid experience in track and field. We were thrilled to have her."

The move to Shanghai was a big change for a small-town girl from Inner Mongolia. She initially had trouble adapting to the climate, the food and the hectic city pace.

In frequent calls with her mother, Chen was encouraged to stick with it.

Two years after she arrived in Minhang, Shanghai's rowing coach Jiang Shuzhi went to Qibao High School to scout potential athletes. Chen's physical coordination and flexibility caught his eye.

With the blessing of her track and field coach, Chen officially switched to rowing.

"We began from the very basics," Jiang said. "Rowing requires use of different muscles, and, most importantly, we had to help her overcome her fear of water," Jiang said, noting that this woman raised in grasslands didn't even know how to swim.

"People born and raised on the grasslands are usually tough," Chen said.

Reflecting on her years training in rowing, Chen said the hardest parts were the plateaus when it was difficult to make breakthroughs and move to a higher level. Sometimes she even thought of giving up, only to be encouraged again by all the people who stood by and supported her.

"I needed to constantly spur myself forward because I knew if I ever cut myself some slack, all hope was lost," Chen said.

After the Olympics, Chen said she is taking a summer break to rest and rejuvenate. Then it's back to training.

The athletes who did us proud at Tokyo Olympics
Ti Gong

Zhang Jin

Artistic gymnast Zhang Jin

Pujiang local Zhang Jin competed and ranked No. 7 on the women's artistic gymnastics team, with teammates Tang Qianjing, Lu Yufei and Ou Yushan.

Her parents and neighbors got together and watched with pride the team's performance live on television.

"It's not easy to make it to the Olympics, especially with the pandemic," said father Zhang Guoping. "We are really happy that our daughter's Olympic dream has come true. We are really proud of her."

The gymnast, born in 2000, was inducted into the national team when she was 13. Since then, she has been training in Beijing.

For the past two years, Zhang hasn't been able to come home to visit her parents. They keep in close touch online.

"Last year, she was competing abroad when the coronavirus was at its worst, and we were really worried about her," said Zhang's mother. "When she came back to China and the pandemic here was generally under control, we felt great relief."

Previously, Zhang won the women's all-round championship in the World Cup of artistic gymnastics in Germany in 2018 and was a runner-up in the women's all-round in China's national championship in May.

The athletes who did us proud at Tokyo Olympics
Ti Gong

Xie Wenjun in training

Hurdles athlete Xie Wenjun

Xie Wenjun was a champion in the 110-meter hurdles event at the Asian Games, Asian Athletics Championship and IAAF Diamond League. He was hailed as the most powerful Chinese hurdler after Liu Xiang, who broke the Olympic record in 2004.

In Tokyo, Xie, 31, was participating in the Olympic Games for the third time, but he didn't manage to advance beyond the semi-final this year. Suffering from a damaged tendon, he didn't arrive in Tokyo in prime condition.

He said he tried to do his best in Tokyo despite the injury.

"I still have dreams," he said.

Separately, here's a little fun fact. Shanghai's first Olympic torch bearer was also from Minhang. A local of Maqiao Town, Xu Weijie who was a senior at Shanghai High School when selected to be one of the four Chinese bearers at the Atlanta Olympic Games in 1996.

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