Zhang Xiaoping knew he was called a dark horse at the Beijing Olympic Games. With a flying horse tattoo on his left arm, the Chinese light heavyweight boxer said he aimed high before the Olympic final, and he did it by winning the gold.
In Friday's semifinal, he defeated veteran Yerkebulan Shynaliyev from Kazakhstan, the one who knocked him out of the top eight of last year's World Championships. Two days later, he claimed China's second boxing gold at the Olympic Games, by beating Kenny Egan from Ireland at 11-7.
He showed his tattoo after the hard-won final victory to reporters, saying "people have been calling me a dark horse, but I will fly higher."
"I did very well psychologically and physically in the Olympic competition," said Zhang after claiming the gold."
"Before the Olympic Games, my goal was just to try to get a medal. I didn't expect to get a gold medal. I worked really hard for 10 years."
Zhang came to the sports brigade of north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region at the age of 16. He was brought to the ring by boxing coach Chaolu for his long arms and agile mind.
He proved his talent in boxing with a silver medal at the national youth championships in 1999, just one year after he took up the sport.
He won another silver medal in the national championships in 2002 and was selected into the national boxing team two years later.
"He became confident in himself since the 2002 national championships. It was then that he became a powerful boxer," said Dang Zhongyi, a sports official in the Inner Mongolia sports bureau.
However, the road to real success was never smooth.
He was knocked out of the semifinals at the 10th National Game in 2005, when he was regarded a hopeful for the gold. In the following year, he was eliminated in the first round at the Asian Games, which sent the boxer into great depression, and questions emerged on his ability.
"He was too eager to win and too afraid of defeat, which developed into a heavy psychological burden for him," said Chaolu.
The burn continued to affect Zhang in the 2007 World Boxing Championships in Chicago, the United States. He would qualify for the Beijing Olympic Games as soon as he entered the quarterfinals.
However, an excited Zhang failed to bring himself into sleep for the whole night before his match, which led to a defeat to Shynaliyev and himself knocked out of the top eight.
Coach Chaolu talked to Zhang and gave him advice on how to adjust his mind. Zhang, on his own part, also received training psychologically.
He finally reached to the summit of his career after all these defeats and victories.
He qualified for the Beijing Olympic Games at the beginning this year, and beat Artur Beterbiev from Russia, the silver medalist of the 2007 World Championships and Shynaliyev to reach the final.
"Zhang finally overcame the burden of mind at the Beijing Olympic Games," Chaolu said.
(Xinhua News Agency August 24, 2008)