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Fifty-year-old fencing queen still sharp
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10:05, August 08, 2008

Luan Jujie can cause quite a stir, even at age 50.

China's first Olympic fencing gold-medal winner has returned home to take part in her third Olympics. But this time she will be competing for Canada.

Few young Chinese fans will remember Luan. She is a sporting figure of the last generation, winning the women's foil at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics before many of them were even born. But wherever she goes in China, she is still a star.

"They call out my name and I am very surprised," Luan said in a small but packed press conference room yesterday. "How could they remember me?"

Twenty-four years ago, she would not have been surprised to find herself in the spotlight. Back then, she was a national icon due to her achievement in Los Angeles; her gold medal was a milestone for Chinese fencing having broken the sport's European dominance.

She is now a mother of three and a fencing coach in Edmonton, Canada. It has been a while since she was the focus of so much attention.

Even her kids, who live in Canada but come back to China with her from time to time, had a hard time understanding why their beloved mother was so popular in China.

"They said to me: 'Mom, you are really famous," Luan laughed. "They were just too young to understand.

"Only when they grew up and realized the significance of being an Olympic champion in China, did they feel alright."

All of that changed when she decided to give it another go for the Beijing Olympics. She was so inspired by the opportunity to compete in her home Olympics she came out of retirement to step on the piste one more time.

"That has been the toughest journey that I have ever made," she recalled. "I virtually started from the zero point.

"I definitely wouldn't do it if the Olympics was held in another country."

She temporarily came out of a 12-year retirement eight years ago to represent Canada at the Sydney Games. But Luan said that experience did not compare with the two-year qualification journey to Beijing.

She was the lowest-ranked fencer in the North American zone when she started her qualification. She had to take off work for six months and travel around the world to find any opportunity to take part in Olympic qualifiers, leaving her kids and husband behind.

"First it started in South Korea, then I went to Argentina, then Cuba and I stayed in Europe for two months competing every weekend," she said.

The outcome has been amazing. She finished her qualification ranked No 2 in North America, earning her a berth to Beijing.

"I am doing good," she beamed. "Absolutely, it's a miracle."

She will now compete against the world's elite fencers, many of whom are half her age. But the age gap does not bother her.

"Someone calls me 'mom', someone calls me 'auntie'. I am just an athlete," she said. "Age is not a problem.

"I think I made it into the Olympics and that proved that I am still young."

She spent the last two weeks in Nanjing, her hometown, where she trained with the provincial team. As for her expectations for Beijing, she said anything would please her.

"It is just an incredible experience. I don't really care whether I win or lose.

"I am thankful for such an experience. That just completes my life.

"If I was in China, I do not think I would have any chance (to make the team). So I went to Canada and they gave me chance.

"It doesn't matter how old you are, but if you really love it, you can make the team and you can do it. It doesn't make any difference (if you are very old)."

Source:China Daily

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