China‘s Xu Lijia, who won Olympic gold in 2012, says she will medal again at the Rio Games having made the “sudden” decision to get back into a dinghy.
Until last year the 28-year-old from Shanghai was studying at Southampton University in southern England, after drawing a line under her Olympic career following her 2012 Games victory further along the coast in the women’s Laser Radial class.
But seeing people out sailing, whatever the weather, and looking out over the water to the Isle of Wight inspired Xu, who calls herself “Lily”, to get back afloat.
“The Rio Olympic Games is just a new beginning of my active sailing life which is my ultimate goal… as well as promoting sailing in China,” Xu told Reuters on Sunday.
“I’m going to grab another medal in 2016 in Brazil,” said Xu, who won bronze at Beijing in 2008 and whose 2012 achievement was recognised when she was selected as China’s flag bearer at the closing ceremony.
Xu’s book “Golden Lily” about her journey through China’s gruelling state training programme, which began when she was just 10, describes the pain of only being able to see her parents once a year under the strict regime athletes had to adhere to.
It also tells vividly of Xu’s personal battles with partial deafness, limited visibility in one eye, as well as the conflicts with her Chinese coaches after she signed up her own coach for 2012 via Facebook.
This led to an unorthodox coaching relationship via text and email with Briton Jon Emmett, who was barred from the athlete’s village but who Xu says gave her the winning tactical advice.
Xu said she has not yet been confirmed to represent China, but she has teamed up again with Emmett for her bid to make the Chinese team.
She is staging her campaign for selection outside China, albeit with financial support from Beijing and her home city of Shanghai.
“I really appreciate their help and hopefully I can go even further than Rio,” she said, adding she has “more freedom” and can learn more from sailing books with her improved English.
China has already qualified for the Games, so as long as Xu is its best sailor in the Laser Radial she should be bound for Rio.
Xu plans to spend as much time as she can on the water between now and the Games, in Rio and at regattas around the world. Although she was “very ill” when she first sailed in the polluted waters of Rio’s Guanabara Bay, Xu thinks she has built up an immunity.
The silver and bronze medallists in the London Games, Dutch sailor Marit Bouwmeester and Belgian Evi Van Acker, are still her closest rivals, Xu said, adding that techniques are more physical than four years ago.
Beyond Rio, Xu sees her future in sailing, possibly as a professional in offshore yachting and wants to focus on getting more people in Asia and China into the “life-long” sport.