Five years ago, taekwondoist Wu Jingyu was known more for her acting skills than her performances on the mat. But since then she has grown into an accomplished taekwondist with a number of major domestic and international titles to her name.
On Friday she cemented her place among the world elite by winning the women's 47kg at the World Championships in Beijing, putting her in prime position for Olympic glory next year.
"It was my first world championships. And the victory will give me more confidence ahead of competitions against tough rivals in the future," said Wu.
"Mentally and technically speaking, it was a breakthrough for me. I am sure I am able to beat anyone in the event."
The 20-year-old Doha Asian Games champion won the hosts their first gold of the competition after Yaowapa Boorapolchai from Thailand withdrew in the second round, trailing a massive 0-5. It was also Wu's first victory over such a formidable rival: she had beaten Wu in both of their previous meetings.
Looking back on her days in her provincial team, Wu said she always worked hard for an opportunity with the national team - a chance that would not come until 2005.
"They were many good athletes in China. You will pay for being distracted during training and competitions as other players will catch up."
Although in 2003 the then 16-year-old was unstoppable in a number of domestic tournaments, it wasn't until she won the national championships title and a historic world junior championships gold in 2004 that she earned a spot on the national team.
"I think the title of national champion and as the first Chinese winner in the junior world championships lifted me to another level. I was called up by the national team in 2004 and fortunately became the teammate of Olympic champions Chen Zhong and Luo Wei."
Wu first began practising taekwondo in 1999, and it quickly became clear to her that she had special talent. Even the experiences of acting in a film could not stop her from pursuing her dream on the mat.
"I still remember when the director of the film came to the stadium to scout for an actress, I thought it was national coach searching for future national members.
"I was even dreaming at that time that I might be selected as a national member," smiled Wu.
But the novelty of acting quickly wore off: "It was not as interesting as I had expected at all. I had to stand in front of the camera for a long time and repeatedly perform the same action."
"I prefer real sport. The sport also requires a lot of etiquette. And I find the people in the sport are nice and kind. The experiences in the sport help me a lot."
With national, Asian and world title under her belt, Wu now has her eyes on the Beijing Olympics.
"The Olympic Games is a dream for every athlete. But to win a gold is determined by high-level skill and being in the best form. So it is very important for me to perform consistently before the Games and keep fit."
But Wu is refusing to get carried away, as she still does not believe her selection for the 2008 team is a lock.
"The world championships is a trial, to show the coaches who to pick for the Games. I still need to work hard and prove myself in upcoming competitions."
Wu said she is lucky to be a part of the national team and be able to learn from Olympic champions Chen Zhong and Luo Wei.
"Chen was my roommate when I first joined the national team. She was so kind and considerate.
"Sometimes I cried in the room when I could not understand what the coach said. She always tried to calm me down, telling me what it should be like. She is like my elder sister and even now, helps me a lot when I need."
Hard work and failure have made Wu mentally strong, and now she feels she can take the pressure as well as anyone.
"The training is so hard and the pain in my legs makes me cry sometimes. I have even thought of quitting. I have not competed enough in big tournaments. The lack of experience used to make me feel nervous under pressure. Now, I am grown up and I know how to adjust myself.
"There are always upsets in taekwondo. There are few people who can remain undefeated for a long time."
(China Daily May 21, 2007)