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Feature: After tears and hesitation, shooter Du Li is back
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08:31, August 15, 2008

From Saturday to Thursday, the Chinese girl seemed to have walked from hell to heaven.

Five days ago, 26-year-old shooter Du Li failed to defend her Olympic title in 10-meter air rifle and finished just the fifth, conceding the most eye-catching first gold medal for the Beijing Olympics to Czech markswoman Katerina Emmons.

Five days later, she staged a comeback, edging a host of ace shooters to be crowned in 50-meter rifle three positions and smashing the Olympic record at the same time.

"The five days seemed to me longer than four years."

Facing the elated spectators who shouted out her name, the champion struggled to force a smile, before sobbing in joy.


She would call that morning of Saturday a sheer nightmare.

Former Olympic record holder in air rifle, the girl from eastern Shandong Province managed to achieve 399 points in the qualification round of the event on Saturday. But in the final, she was out of gear and scored none of her shots above 10.5 point.

Stepping out of the final hall, the normally cheerful markswoman cried like a child.

"I wanted to have the national flag hoisted, and I tried really, really hard, but I just couldn't make it..."

"She could have played better, but she had too much pressure," said Katerina Emmons, the gold medalist who gave her a hug as comfort.

Xiao Haopeng, leader of the Chinese shooting squad, said, "her qualification score reflects her normal level, but she was under great pressure playing in her own country."

Immediately the news was reported, netizens expressed their understanding and offered comfort.

"Don't be afraid of failure so long as you made efforts. Heroes are not necessarily the winners and those who failed to pick up medals also deserve respect. You are just less luckier," said a netizen nicknamed yyh_570 on the portal website of Sina.

"Girl, don't cry. Your tender shoulders have born too much expectation. We will love you as always. We love your bright smile," followed another from Shanghai.


Since long time ago, Du has been brought to spotlight by Chinese for winning the first gold medal at the Olympics on their soil, with her photos four years ago appearing on websites and newspapers again.

Her father is a retired police officer and her mother is a worker. The girl started the training of shooting in 1994, when she was 12 years old. Zhang Yumei, a coach from the amateurish sports school of Yiyuan county persuaded the then seventh-grader to have a try.

The training was hard for a kid. Everyday she had to practice for an hour after class. When her classmates enjoyed a rest on Sunday, she received six-hour training.

But Du kept on.

"I told myself not to worry about the outcome," she said. "You can't win the race until you run the first step."

"She was quiet and introversive as a child, but persistent and confident," recalled her mother Qi Yuanzhen.

Efforts of the girl paid off.

Just four months later, Du became bronze-medalist in a local junior contest. Two years later, she was selected into the Shandong provincial shooting squad and in 2001, she entered the national shooting team.

In 2003, she carved out her career on the world arena by creating the world record (the previous one) in 10-meter air rifle at the Croatia World Cup with 104.9 points. In 2004, the girl made her name at the Olympics with a record-setting performance.

The glory didn't bring big changes to her. Unlike some other famous athletes who set foot in the entertainment circle, the pretty Du has always remained a low-key life.

As Xu Haifeng, former head coach of the Chinese national shooting team, saw it, "Du had become a real shooter, not just someone who can shoot."

"She cleared her mind of everything she can't control, of the extraneous stuff like 'Where am I (in the standings)? How am I doing'?" he said.


But the mild retired shooter might have forgotten, that even real shooters shake sometimes.

August 9 was a rainy day to Du Li. When she walked to the dinning hall after competition, her eyes had become red and swollen after a cry.

"I went to bed at about eleven. During that night, I couldn't remember how many times I woke up, recalled the scene at daytime and cried again," she said.

"Four years ago I was like a bobby calf unafraid of the tiger, but four years later, I must start from scratch, loaded with hopes of my compatriots."

Indeed, at Athens, she stayed in her own room every night watching DVDs.

But this time, the girl was afraid of being alone.

"Whenever I was alone, I would think of many things. I sat there in a daze. If it was longer than half an hour, I burst into tears."

Therefore, she went to play cards with her teammates in the evening, though she could hardly focus.

However, at daytime she still need to practice for three position event, which was not her major discipline but she wanted to pick up.

"On my way to the shooting range, when I heard volunteers shouting 'Du Li, come on', my heart ached," she smiled bitterly.

Surprising gifts came on Tuesday, when the shooter received two cards. One carried the characters that read "we are forever by your side. You are the best", while the other was made by a girl named Li Ziyi. On the card there was a photo of Du, together with a red heart and a small rainbow. "Sister, we take pride in you", Li wrote.

"They are just simple gifts, but I was touched," Du said.

Wednesday, the day before her competition, saw the peak of her fret.

She wiped her rifle violently after training from 9 to 11 a.m., thinking of giving up.

Before going to bed, Du shut herself in her room for about an hour.

"I thought to myself, what would happen if I win tomorrow? What if I lose again?" But actually, she was eager to win.


August 14.

Four years ago she was crowned in Athens at the very date.

This time she wondered if this could be her lucky day again.

At the qualification round of 50-meter rifle three positions, when she was make trial shots of the standing part, her coach Wang Yuefang called her for a talk.

At first Du pretended that she did hear. "I have been used to tackling problems alone," she said.

When Wang called her for a second time, Du was pissed off.

"I am feeling well, why did you call me?"

Du Li is that kind of person who would prove her ability when doubted, so she finished the first in the qualification with 589 points, equaling Olympic record.

Media coverage of the final was just a few lines, but only those who experienced it know how fierce the competition was. Each shot changed positions of the shooters.

In the first shot, the Chinese shooter who made a late firing scored only 8.7 points, losing the starting advantage and slipped to the third.

"I was nervous and not well-prepared before clicking the trigger," she recalled, "but I told myself, I can't make a mistake twice, because I am Du Li."

In the second shot, she seemed to regain her sharpness a bit amid cries of "Du, come on" from spectators, and climbed to the second with a 10.3.

The third shot saw her further mustering up her strength to make a 10.4. She then shared the No. 1 position with surging Olga Dovgun from Kazakhstan.

However, Du didn't seem to hold her nerves in the following two shots, collecting a 9.8 and a 9.9 and dropping to the second.

Burying her head in the right arm for quite a while after each shot, Du managed to delight spectators with a 10.8 point in the six shot, and hence pulled away to secure her leading position in the following shots.

Before the last shot, her advantage was 1.6 point.

"I then asked myself, how should I fire the last shot? Will the spectators still be applauding and cheering later on? Or will they be disappointed again? During that short period all kinds of thoughts swarmed into my mind," she said.

Then Du ordered herself to cool down.

She was ready to take a risk.

The shot was made. A 10.5. Tears flooded into her eyes.

"My tears today are definitely not shed for the same reason as on Saturday," she said.

"I am here today with gratitude, for I couldn't persist if not for the support and encouragement from so many people."

The champion apologized to her coach at the press conference. "I shouldn't have been angry with you. I'm sorry," she said.

"You don't need to say sorry," said the equally excited Wang from the back of press conference room, "you are always the best."


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