BEIJING (Reuters) - Jujie Luan was a promising 16-year-old runner and badminton player when Chinese sporting authorities ordered her to switch to foil fencing.
The move was the best thing that ever happened to Luan, whose howls of protest over the move fell on deaf ears.
Luan became a hero in China when she won that country’s only ever fencing gold at the Los Angeles Games in 1984 before emigrating to Canada.
Now at 50 years old and eight years after retiring from competition she put on hold her job as a foil coach in Edmonton to compete all over the world and scrape up the qualifying points to represent her adoptive country in Beijing.
“When you’re an athlete in China, you’re famous and you get everything much easier,” Luan told Reuters.
“But now I have to work hard in Canada to make money for living and for traveling to these competitions. But I qualified and I don’t care about anything.”
She flew to Beijing on July 14, her birthday, calling the trip a gift to herself. Since then she has been training in her native Nanjing, in the sports centre that bears her name.
Her return has rekindled the Chinese media’s interest in her in a country that once made a movie about her life and issued stamps bearing her image.
She was already famous here years before winning Olympic gold for her exploits at the 1977 world junior championships, where she finished second despite being stabbed in the arm by an opponent’s broken foil in the first round.
“Yes, there is a lot of media interest, but they always ask the same questions,” Luan said with a laugh. “I just want to concentrate on training and getting my body back. I feel good and I‘m very focused.”
She does not have any illusions about Monday’s foil competition, conceding it would take a miracle to win a medal. After the Games she will go back to coaching fencing in the hockey town of former Edmonton Oiler and NHL Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky.
“At first it was hard in Edmonton, not many people were fencing,” Luan said.
“At minus 30 Celsius (-22 Fahrenheit) in my first winter there I thought ‘Oh my god, what did I do?’ But I like it now. We have about 260 people in our club. Now I‘m very busy.”
Editing by Steve Ginsburg