With a heart hungry for victory, China's star gymnast Li Xiaopeng announced to the world that he is ready for the Beijing Olympics, now less than 85 days away.
The 27-year-old from Hunan, who has been sidelined for the last two years with ankle and toe injuries, was flawless yesterday at the Bank of China World Cup in Tianjin, dominating the parallel bars and finishing with a silver medal in the horizontal bar.
"It is a fantastic feeling for me to hear the national anthem on the top podium once again," Li said. "I just cannot believe I am here competing on home soil again because I've been out of action for such a long time.
"I thought fans had already forgotten about me, but they just cheered for me and cried my name today. For me this is just like a dream and I feel I was reborn after coming back to the mat this time."
As the face of Chinese gymnastics, Li has the most world championship titles of any national team member, claiming his first Worlds gold on the vault nine years ago in Tianjin.
He is known as the "Prince of the Parallel Bars".
But injuries have slowed Li down and he hasn't taken part in any international competitions since undergoing ankle surgery in 2005.
His absence hasn't affected China's dominance in the sport, however, as the team won the world championship title in Denmark last year. In his stead, a number of young stars have taken the spotlight.
His titles in Tianjin were quite timely, a strong message to media and fans ready to write him off as an Olympic pretender.
"I kept on training even when I couldn't join in major events. I never gave it up," he said. "With the performance here in Tianjin, I regained my confidence."
Li scored a rarely seen 16.775 points in parallel bars, beating his major rival, World Championships silver medalist Hoshi Yosuke of Japan by one whole point, a big margin in gymnastics. He was followed by teammate Huang Xu, who grabbed 16.525 points.
This tournament is Li's second competition since his return - he also won a gold medal in the parallel bars at the Cottbus World Cup last month as well as a bronze on the horizontal bar.
(China Daily May 16, 2008)