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Impaired Player Jumps to New Height
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Standing at 1.93m and boasting a combination of jumping ability and body control, two-time Paralympics champion Li Duan might have been able to join China's international hoopsters Wang Zhizhi and Chen Ke as a high-calibre star but for a devastating accident a decade ago.

In 1996, a fire extinguisher explosion badly injured the fingers and vision of the then national youth team guard and changed his life forever.

"I was in the spotlight when playing in the China Basketball Association (CBA) and won the Youth Slam Dunk Competition in 1995. And I was also the teammate of Wang Zhizhi and Chen Ke at the national youth team. But the accident ended my basketball career, throwing me into depression. I even lost confidence in life for some time," said Li.

Li moved to the background and became a masseur for his former teammates until he was found by a coach in 1998 and embarked on a new career in which he went on to become winner of the long jump F12 and triple jump T11 at the Athens Paralympic Games.

"My former teammates and the coach encouraged me when I was feeling down. I climbed up from the bottom of life step by step," he said.

A silver and a bronze medal at Sydney Paralympic Games proved to be his biggest motivation.

"When I found I still had the ability to do sports on the track and field, I summoned up confidence and made greater efforts to prove myself."

The blind long-jumper from northeastern China's Liaoning Province then exhibited his newfound competence and excellence in Athens, winning two golds for China.

"Though it was a different way of jumping and running, I began to enjoy every moment on the field, just like on the basketball court. " said the 28-year-old Li.

'Dance with coach'

Li is now in the Shanghai Disabled Person's Sport Training Centre, gearing up for the coming of the Far East and South Pacific Games for the Disabled (FESPIC Games) in Malaysia and the 2008 Beijing Games.

But a sudden change of coach has somewhat tripped him up.

"I have been asked to win both golds at the FESPIC Games. But my long-time can could not go to Malaysia with me due to team size limits.

"The coach is like my eyes," Li said, describing the unique relationship between a blind long-jumper and his coach.

Blind athletes depend totally on the voice of their coaches as a guide as they approach and make the final jump.

As Li stands at the start line, the coach begins clapping his hands in a rhythmic pattern.

Like a dancer following music, Li then rushes forward according to the rhythm.

When the rhythm reaches a certain intensity, Li jumps as far as he can.

This kind of interaction is unique and difficult.

"It is very important to keep a long-time coach. The sport requires perfect co-operation if an athletes wants to jump as far as he can."

From time to time, blind long-jumpers fall heavily against the ground due to poor coordination.

"We had no trust in our coaches at the beginning. I went through about 19 coaches before Jin began to coach me in 2003.

"I think we two will work as a team until 2008. To win the golds on home soil is my dream.

Even after retirement, Li hopes to be linked to sports.

"When I am too old to jump, I will pick up the job of masseur for basketball players again."

(China Daily October 30, 2006)

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