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Fencer Zhong bounces back from slump to win sabre gold
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He was almost knocked out of the Beijing Olympics.

But Zhong Man knocked back, winning a sabre fencing gold medal. Now he's an internet sensation in China, with his life story and even his wedding portraits online.

The 25-year-old became a national hero on Tuesday after defeating Frenchman Nicolas Lopez 15-9 in the men's sabre individual event final at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

The gold medal was China's second ever in the sport. Woman foilist Luan Jujie won the first at the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

The man who threatened to rob Zhong of the Olympic opportunity was, of all people, his French coach Christian Bauer.

"In the first half of this year, Zhong Man failed to concentrate in an international competition and lost the game. On the way back to Beijing, Bauer told him to leave the national team," said Zhang Shuangxi, head of the fencing team of eastern Jiangsu Province, Zhong's first fencing coach.

The young fencer was so frightened, he turned to his former coach for advice. Zhang suggested that he admit his errors and ask for forgiveness.

Zhong finally made his way to the summer Games after raising his world ranking to No. 9. He attracted little notice before he won the Asian Championship title in Bangkok in 2008.

"My French coach offered tremendous help in improving my fencing skill. He is the best in the world," Zhong told a crowded press conference.

Before the gold medalist met the French coach, he was trained by Zhang in Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu.

"Zhong Man has an excellent sense of distance that training can hardly improve. He is very diligent. He would not stop practicing until he is really exhausted," said the Jiangsu team head.

Born in Nantong, Jiangsu, Zhong started his sporting life as a runner.

"I like playing basketball. Once when I was playing, a fencing coach was watching. After the game, he asked me whether I wanted to become a fencer, since my 190-centimeter height was a big advantage. After thinking twice, I decided to transform myself into a fencer," he said.

His parents were not optimistic about such a career and worried the intensive training could affect his schooling, but he insisted and carried on. The decision proved to be good for himself and the nation.

Bauer attributed Zhong's excellent performance in Tuesday's final to the fencer's ability to handle pressure and two years of hard training.

"Zhong has reached an outstanding, European level," said the Frenchman.

(Xinhua News Agency August 15, 2008)

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