(Sports Focus) Zhang Peimeng retires as landmark figure in Chinese athletics

Source: Xinhua| 2017-09-08 16:59:28|Editor: Zhou Xin
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by Sportswriters Ma Xiangfei, Wu Shuguang

TIANJIN, Sept. 8 (Xinhua) -- When Zhang Peimeng survived a bone cancer scare at the age of 22, he did not know he would one day become a landmark figure in the Chinese athletics.

When he finally hung up his running spikes at the end of the National Games, his name has etched into history as the first man in China who was able to touch the 10 second-barrier in men's 100 meter.

"I feel like there are thousands of words at the tip of my tongue but I suddenly am at loss for what to say," said the 30-year-old, who was able to bid farewell to the track with a gold medal in the 4x100m relay together with his national teammates Su Bingtian, Xie Zhenye and Wu Zhiqiang on Thursday night, a day before the closing ceremony.

"I don't want to say goodbye. It is as if I am not leaving, if I don't say 'it's the last time'," he added.

Looking back at his career, Zhang had tried in vain to reach a 100m final at either the World Championships or the Olympic Games. The one time he was closest to his goal was at the semifinal of the 2013 Moscow World Championships, where Zhang clocked in the historic 10s, a national record then, but was nine thousandths of a second short of the final.

Zhang's 10s are surely a far cry from Jamaican great Usain Bolt's 9.58s world record but it is as significant for China as is Bolt's record to the world. Zhang opened the door to the possibility that a Chinese sprinter could reach the crown jewel of athletics.

Less than two years after Zhang's Moscow race, Su Bingtian, two years younger than Zhang, made a breakthrough, setting the new national record of 9.99 at the Eugene Grand Prix. Three months later, Su stormed into the 2015 Beijing World Championships final, marking another historic moment in China's sports history.

"It is hard to summarize the progress of Chinese athletics in the past decade in a few sentences. I already lost my national record but I am happy because I consider myself a pioneer, a stepping stone as Su, Xie and other younger runners can follow my steps to see farther, reach higher and dream bigger," Zhang said.

"I have done my part for Chinese athletics and I have no regret in this aspect," he continued.

Born in a Beijing family with two parents who were brilliant athletes, father Zhang Cheng a former Asian record holder in pole vault and his mother a former high jumper, Zhang showed his sporting talent at an early age. At 17, Zhang was a careless boy slack in training but already ran at 10.5. It was not until a few years later when he met a Tsinghua University professor, Li Qing and decided to be a serious runner.

In 2007, Zhang won his first 100m national title and had a bright future ahead of him until a diagnosis of cancer struck him.

Weeks before 2009 National Games, Zhang went to see the doctor to treat his aching knee cap and the doctor told Zhang's parents he was diagnosed with bone cancer.

Zhang fell silent the moment he heard the result. For some time after that, Zhang often left home at night and walked on the track lap after lap.

Later, when Zhang Cheng sent his son's examination results to other doctors for confirmation, it turned out to be a scare.

Zhang Peimeng changed a lot after the scare. He became a more determined, hard working athlete who cherished his career.

After 2013, Zhang could not repeat his peak performance any more but he managed to leave a mark in the team event.

At 2015 Beijing Worlds, Zhang, Su, Xie and Mo Youxue pushed China's athletics to a new height, winning a silver in the 4x100m.

"I am really grateful for my teammates. We fought together and pushed each other forward," he said.

After retirement, Zhang decided to follow his coach Li's step to be a sports teacher in Tsinghua.

"That's my way to give back something to the sport," he said.