Sun, 28 Nov 2021

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Age and procreation are no barriers for Chinese race walker and grand slam winner Liu Hong, who continued to shine at the Tokyo Olympics after returning from giving birth.

By sportswriter Dong Yixing

TOKYO, Aug. 6 (Xinhua) -- For many female athletes, giving birth usually means the end of their athletic careers. Rio 2016 race walking champion Liu Hong, who retired in 2016, once thought so until she realized that she still wanted to compete. After her baby girl was born, Liu returned as a competitive race walker.

Just like finding a balance between rules and speed as a race walker, Liu had to reschedule her life through high intensity training and quality time with her daughter as both a mother and an athlete.

"After becoming a mother, I didn't have a lot of time for training, I had to really care for the combination of my household and my training. And so my way of training was quite different. I didn't have as much time as prior to becoming a mother," Liu told reporters after she won a bronze medal on Friday.

Giving birth has changed her body physiologically but makes her look at wins and losses from a different perspective.

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"For the Chinese team I think maybe we feel a little bit regretful because in the past we've won gold and maybe had the strength to win gold. But competitions are competitions and they come out as they do, so yes, I have some regrets about getting the bronze instead of silver or gold, but to be able to participate in four Olympics is already a great honor," added the 34-year-old.


With her 20km victories at the Spanish leg of the 2015 IAAF Race Walking Challenge in La Coruna, the 2015 World Championships in Beijing and the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, Liu has completed a grand slam of major race walking titles, joining Wang Junxia and Liu Xiang to become only the third grand slam winner in China's track and field history. After winning the Olympic title, however, Liu suddenly felt that the motivation that had pushed her was taken away.

Liu was 29 years old that year with great physical strength but an exhausting heart. As an athlete for more than ten years, winning titles had been her only goal. Both the glory and happiness, and the pressure and anxiety came from winning titles. However, the fear of losing was much greater than the desire to win.

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After completing her grand slam, Liu thought there was no need to hang on. In August 2016, Liu retired after the Rio Olympics.

Liu lived a regimented life for more than a decade: regular diet, regular sleep cycle, and regular training schedule. When she went for events and tournaments, all of her meals, accommodation and transportation were already arranged.

Leaving this bubble, Liu found it hard to cope with the wider world and arranging her own life. At home, she always lay on the sofa and scrolled through her phone without knowing what to do, where to go, when to leave or even what to eat.

In September 2017, Liu went to watch China's National Games in Tianjin when seven months pregnant. When she heard the starting gun, Liu looked at the walkers and felt as if she was on the track. When the race was over, Liu was jealous when her former teammates went onto the podium. "I came to realize that I still wanted to walk and win," she said. "But I had no idea what my body would be like at that time."

There aren't many employment choices for retired athletes. Many become teachers or coaches, or work in an office in the sports sector. Liu had thought about these choices but found it hard to give up on her expertise, experience and honors.

The track was calling.

In May 2018, when the IAAF World Race Walking Team Championships was held in Taicang, Jiangsu Province, Liu took her daughter, Xi Xi, who was less than half a year old, to the venue.

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Lupita Gonzalez of Mexico won the women's 20km race. Two years prior in Rio, she had been overtaken by Liu in the final few meters, finishing second by two seconds. "If I were there," Liu kept thinking, "I would have claimed the championship."

"We can't do it without you. Come back," joked an old friend from the athletics association. Liu smiled and asked herself if she really wanted to come back. And the answer was yes.

During that time, Liu heard a lot of voices and doubts. Some people questioned why she would return after giving birth instead of living an easy life, suggesting that Liu might take advantage of her previous honors and make a fortune in the sports industry. Liu's mother-in-law also tried to persuade her.

Liu, who paid little attention to the doubters, was committed on her comeback. The only question for Liu and her husband, Liu Xue, was how to combine the joys of competition with raising their daughter.


Giving birth has an irreversible effect on a woman's body. For athletes who use their bodies as weapons, the effect would only be more significant.

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As they got closer to 40km, some athletes started to throw up and rub their muscles while others slowed down and fell behind. Only Tibetan girl Li Maocuo and Liu still remained at the front. Shortly after, Li also slackened her pace.

In the last 10km, Liu was all by herself. She began to use all the strength of her body to move forward. She seemed to have completely shaken off the effects of giving birth and regained the initiative to control every muscle. With the first few tens of kilometers of groundwork, her hip joint seemed to open completely, like a flexible and stable axis that kept pushing her legs forward. With all opponents behind, Liu didn't have to worry about others' speed, but focused on her own body, walking at her own pace, and moving forward.

Liu broke the world record in the 50km race walk on that day, clocking 3:59:15 to become the first female athlete to break the four-hour barrier in the event.

Age and procreation are not her limitations, and family is not the end of her career. Liu felt that life is like race walking, knees straight, one step at a time, finding her balance between rules and speed.

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