Zhao Yunlei: Love and Gold Medals at London Olympics

August 9, 2012
Editor: Zhao Liangfeng

Zhao Yunlei's first Olympic Games were a double victory not only because she swept two gold medals for the women's badminton doubles and the mixed doubles, but also because she did the latter by playing alongside her boyfriend, Zhang Nan.

Zhao Yunlei (R) and her partner and boyfriend Zhang Nan celebrate their victory in the badminton mixed doubles at the London Olympic Games. [news.cn]

Zhao Yunlei (R) and her partner and boyfriend Zhang Nan celebrate their victory in the badminton mixed doubles at the London Olympic Games. [news.cn]


Zhao, 26, was born into an athletic family. Her father is a basketball coach in a local sports school in Yichang, south China's Hubei Province, and her mother is a tennis coach.

Although as a child, Zhao was more drawn towards the arts, she gradually fell in love with sports under her parents' influence.

She began badminton training when she was in primary school and her potential was soon discovered by one of her parents' colleagues, who decided to train her professionally.

As athletes themselves, Zhao's parents knew how tough the life could be, and did not want their daughter to go down that road.

The issue came to a head when a family conference had to be held when Zhao was recruited by the provincial badminton team and had to leave for another city. After lengthy discussions, her grandfather suggested, "Let her go and live her own life."

What her grandfather said concluded the discussion and set the 10-year-old girl on the path that would eventually lead her to two Olympic gold medals.

Although she encountered many difficulties in the beginning, her optimism and her parents' encouragement helped see her through.

Her rapid progress landed her a spot on the national team in 2004, where she spent six hours a day, Monday to Saturday, training intensively. On Sundays, she would relax a little, often eating out with friends.

In 2006, she won her first championship in the badminton doubles category at the Asian Youth Badminton Championship. The next year, she won three gold medals at three national sports events.

In 2008, she began to play alongside Cheng Shu in the women's doubles. This year saw her taking part in the Olympic torch relay in her hometown, giving her a first taste of the prestigious games.

In 2010, Zhao competed in the mixed doubles at the Japan Open, partnering with Zhang Nan.

When they won their victory, Zhang kissed Zhao on the side of her head, capturing the attention of journalists and sparking media frenzy as to whether the talented duo were more than just badminton partners.

Zhang kisses Zhao after winning the mixed doubles at the Japan Open 2010. [cnhan.com]

Zhang kisses Zhao after winning the mixed doubles at the Japan Open 2010. [cnhan.com]


However, Zhao was quick to issue a public statement that the kiss was to celebrate their victory and that the two were just friends.

But as Zhao and Zhang continued to team up and win a series of championships at international events, their relationship seemed to grow deeper.

During the on-going Olympic Games, the Chinese media, including China Central Television, continued to speculate about a romantic relationship between the two.

On August 3, 2012, the two beat their rivals in the final to win their first Olympic gold medal. Then Zhao won another gold medal in the women's doubles, cheered on by Zhang who sat by the sidelines watching her.

"Although I had to play in two categories, I didn't feel pressured," said Zhao. "The two gold medals I won belong not just to me, but to my whole team as well."

(Source: sohu.com/Translated and edited by womenofchina.cn)

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