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Mother of epee

By Lei Lei  (China Daily)

10:25, September 28, 2012


Even with a 2-year-old, Li Na helped China to a gold medal in London.

Being a mother is not a burden for veteran fencer Li Na. It's just more motivation. And her world championship title and Olympic gold medal are the best gifts she can think of giving her 2-year-old boy.

"Since becoming a mother, my attitude has changed," said Li, the women's epee individual world champion and team Olympic gold medalist.

"Before giving birth to my baby, I could do whatever I wanted to, but after being a mother, I'm more responsible. I know I have to take responsibility for many things and think more before doing things," Li told China Daily.

"Staying with the baby has made me more stable and calm. I should set a good example for my baby."

At the London Olympic Games in August, Li and her young teammates claimed the gold medal in the women's epee team event. It was the first Olympic gold medal for China in a fencing team event and what was even more important for Li was that she won gold only a year and a half after returning to the fencing mat.

"The biggest feeling for me after winning the Olympic gold was that my efforts were not in vain," said the 31-year-old. "I had not achieved such glory in the first part of my career, but got it after being away from the competition for nearly two years. It really proved that my return was a success."

However, making the decision to return to the sport was not an easy one for Li, who had to leave her six-month baby in 2011.

"There are so many reasons for my return," said Li, who retired after the 2009 National Games and got married. She gave birth to her baby, whose nickname is "Tiger", the following year.

"The Chinese fencing team was lacking veterans and I had regrets as well. I wanted to have a successful close to my career, so I decided to return."

Picking up the sport at the age of 12, Li, who was born in Dandong, Liaoning province, considers fencing one of the most important parts of her life.

The left-hander quickly rose to glory. She was selected to her provincial team one year after picking up the sport, and then joined the national team in 1998.

The following year, Li emerged on the international stage by winning the individual and team Asian Championships titles. A team silver medal at the World Championships later saw Li and her teammates qualify for the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

"I only watched the Olympic Games on TV before that and the Games were so far away from me, but in 1999, I realized that it was so close to me," Li recalled. "I said to myself, it will be a turning point in my life. I will strive for as good a result as I can."

Li said she had no regret at her first Olympics. She helped the team clinch bronze in the women's epee team event, the best result China had achieved at that time.

After finishing sixth at the 2004 Athens Olympics, the Chinese women's epee team began striving for greater things at the home Olympics in 2008.

Things went well for Li and her teammates en route to the Beijing Games. They won the team world title for the first time at the 2006 Worlds, and Li rose to world No 1 the following year with three World Cup wins and a silver medal at the Worlds.

Then the big blow came.

At the Beijing Games, Li failed to reach the final by losing to German world champion Britta Heidemann in the semis. She was then beaten by Ildiko Mincza-Nebald from Hungary to miss out on the bronze.

"I was overtaken after leading by a big margin, which was a big regret for me," Li said while recalling the experience in 2008. "That match is the most unforgettable one for me and it even hurts me to think of it now."

To make up for that performance, Li vowed to return despite the difficulties she faced.

"My physical condition was at a very low level at that time and I was just like a beginner," said Li, who returned to the national team in May 2011. "It was really tiring, but I didn't want to repeat the regrets of 2008."

The French coach of the national team helped Li get back to her best form quickly.

"The training with the French coach in Spain in August 2011 was tough because I had to face many strong rivals and I missed my son so much," Li said. "But I would train even harder while missing my son."

World-renowned French coach Daniel Levavasseur signed with the Chinese team in May 2011. He took the team to train at his club in the suburbs of Paris. Chinese fencers began learning more about western culture because fencing is traditionally a sport dominated by Europeans.

"Levavasseur is very professional and dedicated to his work. He let us train and live with his fellow fencers in Europe and that helped us to get an idea about the western world," said Li, who claimed her first individual world championship title in October 2011.

Despite realizing her Olympic dream in London, Li said she won't consider retirement until after the National Games next year. No matter if she leaves the sport or not, Li believes the young Chinese team is capable of great things. The 20-year-old Sun Yujie, who won team gold with Li, is the current world No 1 and the other member of the London team, Xu Anqi, is also only 20.

"The young team members who were born in the 1990s are really promising. They are capable of taking over the responsibility and continuing the team's success right now," Li said. "I haven't considered whether to retire or not. But whenever the national ream needs me, I will be there."

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