Wang's uplifting message to next-gen

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Wang celebrates after claiming the gold medal with his leap of 8.36 meters. [Photo/Xinhua]

Newly crowned world long jump champion Wang Jianan hopes his historic gold medal can encourage the next generation to chase their dreams-just as he has been inspired by his own heroes.

"As the young generation of our nation, we should hold onto our dreams. I made my dream come true. I went to the world stage as an Asian athlete and became a world champion. I hope the younger generation can have targets and confidence to aim high," Wang told China Daily show Gen Z's Words, which went online Wednesday.

Wang stunned the field at last month's worlds in Eugene, Oregon, to grab China's first ever long jump gold at the championships.

The 25-year-old surged to victory in his final attempt with a season-best performance of 8.36 meters. That was 4 centimeters further than the best that reigning Olympic champion Miltiadis Tentoglou could muster, with the Greek having to settle for silver.

"I would give myself full marks at the worlds, because the performance and medal speak for themselves. My mom and my wife were also super excited and cried after I won," Wang said.

"The most memorable time was probably the last two rounds of the final when I told myself to keep the faith. I didn't give up, and I did well in my final jump.

"After the last jump, I thought I might have won the gold medal, but I wasn't sure. Visually, I thought it was around 8.30 to 8.40 meters, and there were still four or five athletes left to jump. By the time the Greek Olympic champion finished his jump, I realized that I'd won the gold."

Wang's celebrations were also pretty memorable. The 27-year-old burst into a brisk run on the track, with the joyous scenes becoming trending news on Chinese social media.

"It was a natural reaction. I was surrounded by that atmosphere and the cheering sound from the crowd," explained Wang.

"I couldn't hear the crowd shouting during the run or the jump, but the moment I hit the ground, I heard the cheers of the audience. I thought to myself it's probably good. My body unconsciously wanted to celebrate."

Wang has often spoken of how he actually foresaw the triumph in dreams he's had. The real-life incarnation of those dreams was "particularly wonderful and fantastic", he told China Daily.

However, it has certainly not been a smooth ride to get to this point. Wang's 10-year long jump career has been full of twists and turns-and even moments when he considered giving up the sport.

"The hardest periods were the two years when I had surgery. I had surgery after the Rio Olympics in 2016, and I recovered quite well, but in mid-2017, my other knee was found to have problems. I didn't recover well like the last time. The idea of retiring did flash into my mind," he said.

"I look back on it as a kind of test, but the national team didn't give up on me. They offered me the best rehabilitation team. After these two years, I refreshed my personal bests, which was testament to my progress."

Inspirational idols

Wang has a long list of names to thank for contributing to his resurgence, but he singles out the legendary Liu Xiang as a particular inspiration.

Liu's gold in the 110m hurdles at the 2004 Athens Games was China's first Olympic title in a men's track and field event.

"There was a little seed in my heart that I wanted to be an athlete like Liu Xiang. When I was a kid I ran faster, jumped higher and grew taller than the other kids. So the coach at the municipal sports school told me to give professional athletics a try," said Wang.

"We even had a family meeting about it. My mother had a vision, and she did not hesitate to send me to the track-and-field team for a try. After only a week of training, I made up my mind to stay as I had discovered my talent.

"Liu Xiang was the one who opened the door to athletics for me."

Wang also credits Chinese sprinter Su Bingtian as a major influence.

At last year's Tokyo Games, Su became the first Chinese to reach an Olympic 100m final, refreshing the Asian record to 9.83 in the process in his semifinal.

"Su Bingtian came to train with our jumping team. He changed me deeply. Su's attitude toward training influenced me a lot. I tried to learn from him," said Wang.

Another key figure in Wang's career is American coach Randy Huntington, who counts long jump world-record holder Mike Powell among his highly decorated list of former pupils.

"Randy has many methods, such as data analysis and scientific training, and he always knows what adjustments to make. Besides the actual physical training, he taught us a lot, telling us to be confident," said Wang.

Having worked with Chinese athletes since 2013, Huntington reckons the country can expect more track and field success in the not-too-distant future.

"The horizontal jumps in China are in pretty good shape. The young kids are coming up that may be capable of rising to the same level that Jianan is at within four or five years," Huntington told China Daily after the worlds. "It won't be Paris (Olympics), but probably after Paris, medal potential will be 2025 and beyond."

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