BEIJING: The massive earthquake that caused untold suffering and triggered national mourning has failed to shake the iron resolve of China’s athletes as they prepare for the Beijing Olympics.
Most of China’s nearly 600 athletes who will compete in the Beijing Games were in training camps well away from the affected areas in southwestern Sichuan province when the quake struck and none were injured by the disaster, according to official reports.
Around 20 were in Sichuan but all are safe and unhurt, according to the state Xinhua news agency. Some athletes lost homes and loved-ones, Sichuan sports director Zhu Ling was quoted as saying, but it was unclear if any of them were Olympic team members.
For those athletes training for the Games, the disaster has not been allowed to interfere with Olympic preparations. If anything, their focus on the Beijing Olympics seems to have been reinforced.
Liu Xiang, the 110m world record holder and reigning Olympic champion, caught the mood in comments two days after the disaster when he said athletes were determined to train even harder.
“We will redouble our efforts and try to use our achievements on the field to encourage the people of the disaster areas to rebuild their lives,” Liu was quoted as saying.
China’s government ordered three days of mourning from Monday to allow the public to pay their respects to disaster victims. The nation’s athletes have taken time out for fundraising and observed three minutes’ silence on Monday, one week after the disaster.
But they have scarcely missed a beat in training and preparing for the Games.
China’s gymnasts were in Tianjin competing in a World Cup tournament when the disaster struck. They held a meeting to raise funds for the victims but continued training and competing.
Zou Kai, a gymnast whose parents live in the quake affected areas, was distraught until he found out that they were safe. Then he was back training and competing as normal.
Gymnastics chief coach Zhang Peiwen told Sohu.com website the team had to buckle down to regular discipline and resume training regardless of the disaster, and that included 20-year-old Zou, one of China’s gold medal hopes for the August Games.
When China comes out of the three-day mourning period on Thursday, Beijing will host the four-day China Open athletics championships, the first major sports event since the disaster.
Around 900 Chinese athletes, including Liu Xiang, will compete in a full dress rehearsal for the Olympic track and field event.
The athletes will not be too downhearted to perform well, said venue media director Chen Shuxun.
“There is a Chinese saying: if you want to help people, do what you do best,” he said.
“Our athletes are best at performing so they are going to focus on that. And they are determined to do their very best for the quake victims.”
China’s Olympic sports facilities were undamaged by the quake, including the new National Stadium, known as the Bird’s Nest because of its structure of interwoven steel beams, where the China Open will take place.
It is the last of 42 test events which have taken place over the past ten months to allow Olympic planners to perfect their preparations for the Games.
Channel News Asia