The 21st World University Games will be undoubtedly a landmark in the sports history of China, with the hosts making history by beating the United States for the top slot in the medal standings with 54 golds. Yet China's best achievement may lie in another aspect - the hosts unearthed new talent when many a green hands cut a conspicuous figure at the games.
"We've attained our goal of testing young athletes," Li Furong, Chef de Mission of Chinese sports delegation, said Friday. "We've reaped double harvests at the games, both in terms of the competition results and the athletes' indomitable spirit during competition." he said.
Under his diplomatically quiet tone, Li's joy and pride was palpable. The 11-day games have brought China plenty of pleasant surprises, mostly from their young athletes, which were especially encouraging as China brace themselves for the 2004 and 2008 Olympics.
Spearheading the run of breakthroughs was China's fencers, who clinched surprise victory over traditional European fencing powers, winning five golds out of 12 events, coupled by three silvers and three bronzes.
Chinese swordswomen Meng Jie, a fairly new face in international contests, threw down a formidable challenge to world No. 1 foil fencer Valentina Vezzali of Italy. Although she failed to upset Vezzali in the individual final, she got a sweet revenge four days later in the team final, which helped to secure China's team foil title.
The courage and nerve Meng showed during her clashes with the world's top seed inspired the whole Chinese fencing team. They subsequently took both individual and team titles in the men's foil and women's epee.
The sabre events, widely seen as China's weak points in fencing, also brought China unexpected medals. The hosts took everyone by surprise when Bao Yingying, a 17-year-old who began practicing sabre fencing only two years ago, got a bronze in the women's individual sabre fencing and helped her team get the team silver.
"What impressed me most is our fencers' daring spirit and tenacity during competition," said Wang Xuanqing, Chinese fencing team leader. "In the face of strong opponents, Chinese fencers, especially some young members, didn't show the slightest fear and they fought to the end bravely," he said.
"They beat their rivals in a war of mental strength. This was a great experience for them, " Wang said."Our goal is to win gold medals at the Olympic Games and the World Championships," he said.
China's young athletes also turned in amazing performances in women's judo competitions, where China claimed five out of nine titles in contention. Qin Dongya, who clinched gold in the under 70kg category, is one of the Chinese female judokas who conquered the crowd as well as her rivals with her valour and determination.
"Our judokas gained experience and confidence from the University Games, which will lay a solid foundation for the next Olympics," said Liu Yongfu, coach of Chinese women's judo team.
For Chinese gymnastics coach Huang Yubin, the University Games is great because it is here he discovered a new gem - Liang Fuliang. Liang, who was making his debut in international events, walked away with two gold medals, one silver and one bronze.
In the track and field, where China are hardly expected to make waves, young Chinese athletes also did not let their countrymen down. Gao Shuying, who set an Asian pole vault record of 4.50 meters at the Edmonton world championships earlier in August, rewrote her record in the Universiade final by clearing 4.52 meters.
"I'm very confident about China's athletics," said the 22-year- old, who is aiming to challenge the Olympic and world championships titlist Stacy Dragila of the United States.
Another exciting moment for China occurred in the men's 110m hurdles, when 18-year-old Liu Xiang clocked 13.33 seconds to seal the title, beating world championships silver medalist Austrian Elmar Lichtenegger into second.
Liu's time was equal to fourth place at the Edmonton world championships.
"When I get to my career peak point in three to four years' time, I'm confident to break the Asian record of 13.20 seconds," Liu said.
Not surprisingly, China enjoyed tremendous success in their traditionally strong events of table tennis and diving at the University Games. After a string of victories at the games, Wang Liqin, Liu Guozheng and Zhang Yining cemented their top positions in the world's table tennis ranking. China's diving superstars Tian Liang, Guo Jingjing and their world champion
teammates also proved themselves capable of continuing China's dominance of the diving pool after the departure of Xiong Ni and Fu Mingxia.
Although new blood ignited fresh hopes for China in many events at the games, some young athletes failed their compatriots' expectation. For Instance, it was little less than a shock when the women's soccer team, seen as hot favorites at the Universiade, were beaten by the comparatively unknown Dutch team 5-4 through penalty shooting in quarter-finals.
Their coach Ma Yuan'an blamed the defeat on the players' lack of experience. "They're young and short of experience. It's normal for a young team like them to get a little uneven with their performance. They need time to grow," he said.
Chinese are also disappointed by their gymnasts, who got only five titles out of 14, a dismal showing for a gymnastic power like China. Some gymnasts made mistakes where they should not, which cost their gold medals. One example is Olympic bronze medalist Dong Fangxiao, a title hopeful in the vault, who was denied the gold after committing serious errors in the final.
But the coach Huang Yubin looked at it different way. "The sooner we find out the problems, the better. If we draw lessons quickly, including a better understanding of the new competition rules, we would be better prepared for the 2004 Olympics," he said.
He said the competition in the gymnasium was quite strong and " not much less than at the Sydney Olympics". "Our main objective (of participating in the games) is to train our young athletes. We hope they can learn from the veterans and grow up quickly," he said.
(Xinhua News Agency 09/03/2001)