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Gorgeous Olympic athlete, versatile girl
Liu Xuan, a member of the Chinese national gymnastics team, has won the hearts of Chinese and international fans with her youthfulness and bright smile. |
She is the first Chinese woman to win a gold medal in the Olympic women's balance beam competition. The 21-year-old has been involved in gymnastics for 16 years, and even though training and competition have taken up most of her time, she still tries to do the things most young people her age enjoy doing. She likes to read and listen to music.
In her nicely decorated dormitory, countless crystal perfume containers glitter and shine brightly.
"My fascination with perfume began at a very young age," she said. "Almost every bottle of perfume in my collection has a special meaning for me, either a place I've been to or a sweet or bitter memory."
As a veteran on the national team, she has been to many places around the world to attend international competitions, including Hiroshima, Japan; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Lausanne, Switzerland; and Paris, France. She always squeezes some time into her tight schedule of overseas competition to visit fashion and perfume shops.
Soon after she won a gold medal at the Sydney Olympics in September, 2000, a picture of a fully made-up, fashion-clad Liu Xuan appeared in major newspapers and magazines around China. The publication of the picture drew both praise and criticism. Some people say they preferred to see the conventional image of her in her gym suits.
However, Liu Xuan has her own view of the matter.
"Every one has the right to make choices. Since every coin has two sides, it is natural that people's comment can be either good or bad," she said.
Being praised by media in Hong Kong as "beauty Xuan," she has become one of the most beloved sports stars in Hong Kong. She is also on good terms with the press, always smiling and speaking frankly when answering questions.
Though many companies have contacted her for advertisements, she remained cool headed about her future.
"At present, gymnastics is still my main job," she said. "I may go to university after quitting my gymnastic career."
But she is now playing a much bigger role than an experienced athlete, both in the national team and in the sport. She joined a delegation of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games Bid Committee to Lausanne, Switzerland to present Beijing's case of staging the Olympics in December, 2000. She said that the job was more important than any international competition she has attended because she represents the image of the Chinese nation.
"I want to show the world that Beijing is the best," she said.
As the eldest in the teenager-dominated national gymnastic team, Liu Xuan is called "half-coach." She always takes care of her younger teammates and serves as a morale booster in major competitions.
"I hope better Chinese gymnasts will take my place in the next Olympic Games," she said, adding that 21 is the age of retirement for most of gymnasts in the world.
As many other Chinese athletes who rose from the bottom of the country's giant production system of sports stars, Liu Xuan devoted her childhood and many of her adolescent years to the sport.
Born in the city of Changsha in central China's Hunan province, Liu Xuan started to attend regular gymnastic training at the age of five. She entered the provincial team at the age of eight and then the national team at 13. She had no time to go out with her peers or on dates, but she has an idea of what she is looking for in a boyfriend.
"He should be a man with good character and good manners," she said. "He should also be tall."
Though winning an Olympic gold medal and world titles has brought her fame and economic rewards, she remains aggressive as she plans her future. She has been attending English courses in between intensive training sessions and competitions.
"I am planning to become an international gymnastics judge after retiring from the national team," she said.
"I may go to a university first. A number of prestigious universities have offered places for me. But I haven't decided which one to go to," she said.
After representing Beijing in Lausanne, she has been doubling her effort to learn English. She said that in order to be an effective international communicator for Beijing and China, she must speak fluent English.
"I have so many things to do, but time flies. I have to go fast," she said.
With a height of 153 centimeters, the veteran gymnast has been putting on weight since the Sydney Olympic Games. Now she weighs about 55 kilograms.
"I have to keep myself busy so as to keep fit," she said.