'I am Yang Yang (A)': Olympic icon inspires youth

Xinhua
Yang Yang went from being an ordinary little girl in northeast China to a short track world champion who broke China's gold drought at the Winter Olympics.
Xinhua

Yang Yang went from being an ordinary little girl in northeast China to a short track world champion who broke China’s gold drought at the Winter Olympics.

Last Friday she gave an inspiring talk to hundreds of young people at Xinhua News Agency’s “New Youth 2018 Summer Speech,” calling on the youth to illuminate their future with dreams.

“People fail their dreams, not because they lack talent, but because of an absence of courage to face failure and to insist on commitments,” Yang said, recalling her first but disappointing Winter Olympics in Nagano 1998. “The only medal I won at the 1998 Winter Olympics was the women’s 3,000-meter relay silver medal. I was extremely disappointed. I trained so hard, but the result was disheartening.”

From 1997 to 2002, Yang won six consecutive individual overall world titles. What was the secret of her success? Yang gave a long answer.

The first is the sense of crisis. A reporter asked Yang, “Do you think no one can challenge you?” She answered no, and said she felt like she was standing on the edge of a cliff every day and could fall off easily without hard work. When she stepped down from the podium, she had to find something to improve.

The second is how to find deficiencies. Yang wanted to look at things from her opponent’s point of view. She often tried to picture herself as an opponent’s coach and then looked back at her match to check her strategy.

The third is to unite the team. Stand up from where you fall, she said. At the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, China once again fought for its first gold medal. However in the women’s 1,500, an event she had not lost in in five years, Yang only finished fourth, missing out on the podium.

Yang eventually won the women’s 500 event. Her victory at the 2002 Winter Olympics made her China’s first-ever Winter Olympics gold medalist.

“I still remember after the match, when I was interviewed, the only sentence I said was ‘I’m Yang Yang A’. I couldn’t say anything else, because at the time that was the only sentence in my mind,” she said.

Born in 1975, Yang is also known as Yang Yang (A), to differentiate from a teammate also named Yang Yang.

She added a second gold in the women’s 1,000 at the same Games.

After the 2003 world championships, Yang took time off from competing, but came back in the 2004-2005 season in the lead-up to the 2006 Winter Olympics where she won the bronze in the 1,000 and became the flag bearer at the opening ceremony. She retired soon afterwards.

Yang went on to become an IOC member and an International Skating Union council member. Her term at the IOC just ended but she now chairs the Athletes’ Commission of the 2022 Beijing Games.


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