14.2 C
Monday, March 27, 2023
HomeLatestFeature: Pedaling across the countryside to Olympic tracks

Feature: Pedaling across the countryside to Olympic tracks


SHANGHAI, Oct. 19 (Xinhua) — Paddy fields are turning from green to yellow this month at Haishen Village, in the suburbs of Shanghai. Zhong Tianshi, a two-time Olympic track cycling champion, loves riding a bicycle across the farmland. Her red suit and the golden paddy fields form a unique scene.

“Whenever I feel tired or depressed, I find inner peace and coziness here,” says Zhong.

Following her gold-medal finish at the Tokyo Olympics, Zhong took a hiatus from competition and devoted her time to a variety of charity work, ranging from pandemic prevention and control volunteering to animal nursery and education of public transport security.

“Whichever job I do, they have one thing in common – creating positive vibes for society.”

But it is in the velodrome that Zhong is best known.

At the 2016 Rio Olympics, Zhong won China’s first track cycling gold with partner Gong Jinjie, wearing a helmet featuring the Peking Opera face makeup of Hua Mulan, a heroic female role in Chinese folklore.

Five years later, Zhong and Bao Shanju wore the helmets named Feng Ming, literally the “call of the phoenix”, and won gold in the women’s team sprint at the Tokyo Olympics.

But few knew that Zhong had suffered a serious injury in 2019 which cast a shadow on her cycling career. In a team trial before the 2019 World Championships, Zhong fell off her bike, sustaining three broken ribs and several hairline fractures.

Zhong believes that her comeback story represents the “Nirvana of Phoenix” spirit, which in traditional Chinese culture means a rebirth after great pain and transmigration.

“After winning the championship, I was calm rather than excited. All the hardships and setbacks I had endured became worthwhile,” says the 31-year-old.

With two Olympic gold medals and a handful of world titles, Zhong is arguably China’s most successful cyclist. She showed a talent for cycling from young age. “It took me 20 minutes or so to learn how to ride a bike. Then I was only three or four years old,” recalled Zhong.

For years, pedaling in the countryside was a pastime for Zhong until, at age 12, she was spotted by Wang Haili, a cycling coach at a school in Shanghai’s Pudong New Area, and then started professional training. Her progress was so rapid that one year later, she finished in the top eight in national youth competitions.

At the 2009 UCI World Youth Championships, Zhong clinched her first title on the world stage, winning the women’s 500-meter time trial. Soon after that, she was selected onto China’s national team.

Thanks to Zhong’s Olympic success, Haishen Village has seen eight kilometers of cycle paths built in Huinan Township, where Haishen Village is located. In Haishen, bicycle-themed sculptures and decorations can often be seen in the fields.

Last month, Shanghai won the right to host the 2026 World Track Cycling Championships. Zhong hopes this event will further promote the sport in China.

“Track cycling is not a popular sport. I hope more Chinese can join in to feel its charm,” said Zhong.