Profile: Olympic Champion Xu Mengtao, Her Triumphs in and Beyond Freestyle Skiing Aerials

 May 6, 2023
Profile: Olympic Champion Xu Mengtao, Her Triumphs in and Beyond Freestyle Skiing Aerials
Gold medalist Xu Mengtao of China poses during the awarding ceremony of freestyle skiing women's aerials at Zhangjiakou Medals Plaza of the Winter Olympics in Zhangjiakou, north China's Hebei Province, Feb. 15, 2022. [Xinhua/Hu Huhu]


BEIJING, May 4 (Xinhua) — On Feb. 14, 2022, the four-time Olympian Xu Mengtao finally realized her dream of winning Olympic gold in the freestyle skiing women's aerials event at Beijing 2022.

The whole world was waiting for her final jump — sliding, jumping, flipping in the air, and landing steadily, which made her become the first Chinese woman to secure an Olympic title in aerial skiing.

"Is it me? Am I the champion?" she clutched the Chinese national flag in the snow and shouted, later getting down on her knees and shouting out in tears in the snow after confirming the result.

She took a gentle leap and jumped onto the podium with a firm gaze, looking in the direction of the Chinese national flag, an action she had "rehearsed" many times when she was a little girl.

When she was five years old, she often stood on stairs to rehearse the appearance of the Olympic champion after winning the title — jumping up, straightening her back, making a fist with her right hand and putting it on her heart, looking ahead, and humming the national anthem.

The little girl with big dreams back then really became the Olympic champion and stood on the highest podium.   

At that moment, the tears and joy seemed to cover all the struggles that she had been through in her life and all the injuries she had suffered to her body.

Born in 1991 in Anshan, northeast China's Liaoning Province, the 32-year-old veteran had a childhood that was not easy. A small room of less than 6 square meters, a stove, and a small bed were all she and her parents owned at that time.

All the income of her family came from her father selling mutton skewers around busy streets. After making his first money by selling mutton skewers, her sports-fanatic father bought a television set, and he always involved his daughter in watching various sports events every day.

Given this trend, Xu began to learn gymnastics when she was only 4 years old.

There were six stops from home to the sports school with one bus transfer. Her father often took only one bus and then got off and walked to the school to save five cents to buy her popsicles.

To assist her in training, her father picked up a meter-long carpet from near his home, washed it clean, put the carpet on the concrete ground, and set up a small "gymnastics field."

"Looking back, I need to thank my parents, especially my strict father," Xu recalled.

The little girl needed to make a handstand for two minutes at school, instead. Her father made her do it for three minutes in home. She was unwilling, holding her breath and dripping with sweat, with her chubby face flushing and tears rolling in her large eyes.

Freestyle aerials is a dangerous sport. The first challenge she encountered was overcoming her fear of jumping. From the trampoline practice at the beginning to the field snow practice, Xu described it as "riding a rollercoaster."

When she flipped for a few short seconds, she could only see the sky. She needed to constantly overcome her fear and ensure she could land firmly to reduce the chance of injury.

Xu recalled that during summer training, a group of girls would climb more than 1,000 steps at 30 degrees Celsius and carry more than 10 kilograms of equipment. They would slide off the platform, take off, fall into the pool, swim to the shore, and repeat the training over and over again.

That was not as simple as walking down the street to buy an ice cream.

In her previous three Olympic performances, the best Xu had ever managed was a silver medal at Sochi 2014.

In 2016, she ruptured ligaments in her left leg when she fell to the ground following an error during a competition. In 2018, Xu resumed training after having steel nails removed from her calf in Beijing. She started with the basics.

"I just wanted to take a chance on myself and fight it out. I worked hard," Xu said.

Having been through a lot of peaks and valleys, she made it happen in Beijing in 2022.   

The national flag was slowly raised, and as the national anthem resounded throughout the square, Xu hummed softly, and tears gently slid down her cheeks.

She was still the girl who loved to cry, but this time her tears were the result of victory, not fear or regret.

After each competition, Xu would write down the movements of some foreign elite athletes and ponder over how the other team did it.

After achieving success, she helped her family move their mutton skewer stall into a 40-square-meter room. Her father hung medals and photos on the wall to show customers what she had achieved in various world competitions.

"It's my daughter, world champion," is his proud answer whenever a customer asks about the photos and medals, and he also makes a small fist and gives a thumbs up to underline his pride and joy.

Many held the opinion that Xu had already achieved her dream and that she was likely to opt for retirement from elite competition.

Xu, however, recently revealed that she is keen to make her fifth Winter Olympics appearance at Milano-Cortina 2026.

"I'm working on plans for my fifth Winter Games campaign," Xu said on Monday at an award ceremony hosted by China Central Television.

"It means that I will probably have to 'shed my skin three times' (to qualify for the 2026 Winter Games). But once I can stand in the Olympic arena again, my battle is half won," added the veteran.   

At the end of 2022, Xu realized her dream of publishing her autobiography with the help of the China Mobile Migu Company. "Fate Rotation" tells the story of 30 years of pursuing her dream, and reveals the memories behind each medal she won.

"I want to tell the dream-chasers that the world is fair, and as long as you are willing to work hard, instead of giving up, you can succeed."


(Source: Xinhua)


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