Olympic champion charting new course to Tokyo

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Injuries might have curtailed her career of late, but China's former Olympic champion Xu Lijia remains as dedicated to sailing as ever.

London Olympics women's laser radial champion Xu Lijia is determined to promote sailing in China. [Photo/Xinhua]

The 30-year-old from Shanghai, who won gold in the laser radial class at the London 2012 Games, is recovering from surgery to both shoulders, ruling her out of recent competitions and ultimately putting her Tokyo 2020 Games participation in doubt.

But through all her tribulations, Xu's enthusiasm for sailing has never waned and she is determined to do her bit to promote the sport in China, expressing hope that homegrown talent will be enticed to compete in other events, not just the Olympics.

"I really hope that more Chinese sailors can participate in professional competitions," she said this week.

"I love sailing and I'm very dedicated to it. If I cannot compete as a professional sailor anymore, I want to find other ways to contribute."

She already has.

While pursuing her college studies in Britain, Xu volunteered to work for the media team covering the Extreme Sailing Series, the sixth round of which was held in Cardiff Bay, Wales, last weekend.

She also records podcasts and writes sailing blogs, and while growing the sport in China remains "a big challenge", she said the potential is "huge," thanks to the country's success at recent Olympics.

As for her own career, Xu remains hopeful she can overcome the pain of the shoulder injuries that forced her retirement from the sport she has grown to love.

After meeting international sailors in Britain who have prolonged their careers, Xu is now weighing her options with an eye toward competing at the 2020 Games in Tokyo.

"A sailor's career can be very long," she said. "For example, one of the champions of the sailing events in the Rio Olympics was 54 years of age.

"I think sailing is a great sport and if I can fully recover from my injuries and continue training in a more scientific way, hopefully my athletic career can be extended as long as possible."

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