Li's still loving the high life

Updated: Oct 4, 2023 China Daily Print
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Li Ling clears the bar on her way to winning the women’s pole vault gold medal during the Hangzhou Asian Games on Monday. The 34-year-old won with an attempt of 4.63 meters. WEI XIAOHAO/CHINA DAILY

Veteran savors home glory in Hangzhou as she continues to push for personal bests

Lying on the ground as the home crowd cheered inside Hangzhou Olympic Sports Centre Stadium, Chinese pole vaulter Li Ling covered her face with a down jacket. A few seconds later, she stood up and took off, pole in hands, for her final attempt.

After gracefully rotating over the bar, she began her descent, gazing up at the night sky above the towering Big Lotus stadium and let gravity's pull take hold. Regrettably, the crossbar also descended, marking an unsuccessful attempt this time.

However, what awaited her was even more enthusiastic applause. She had already secured the gold medal with an Asian Games record of 4.63 meters. Her final attempt was a bid to surpass her own Asian record — 4.72m, set four years ago in Shanghai.

"I've always tried to pursue greater heights, hoping to get closer to the sky. As track and field athletes, we are always striving for those small improvements," she said in the post-competition news conference.

Unlike most sports, pole vault often ends with a failed attempt by the champion as competitors are continuously trying to better their previous mark, which can still be enough to win.

While Li felt a tinge of regret for not surpassing her personal best, she was content with her overall performance on Monday night. This gold medal marked her third consecutive victory in the Asian Games over the past nine years, underlining her dominance in Asia.

"Today my goal was not only to win the Games, I hoped to also set a personal best. I felt in good condition and I was aiming to achieve better results based on my previous performances," said the 34-year-old. "It's great recognition after four years of preparation. I'm very happy."

She explained why she put the jacket on her face to help her focus."When I'm in the arena or on the field, just one moment determines whether you win or lose. So I have to really concentrate."


During the medal presentation, Li wore a traditional Chinese hairpin to match the knot button design of Team China's award ceremony costume. "It's because we are in Hangzhou. It's flower season and this is very romantic," she explained.

Her husband, retired pole vaulter and 2010 Asian Games champion Yang Yansheng, was in the crowd with other family members and friends to cheer Li on.

Li made her Asian Games debut in 2010, finishing second after clearing 4.30m. She recalled that she was quite nervous at the time, but says she is much more confident and focused these days.

"My goal is very clear and it's to break my own records. When I set my goals higher, I don't have an overwhelming obsession with the gold medal because I have higher objectives to pursue," she said.

Li's parents had backgrounds in basketball and volleyball, but she fell in love with pole vault at the age of 12.

"It took me nearly four years before I could actually clear the bar, but I think being a slow starter is not a bad thing since it gave me more time to master the essential techniques," she said.

With over 22 years of pole vault training under her belt, she still finds joy in every session.

"It is a very sophisticated and interesting event. I never feel bored in the pole vault," she said. "I enjoy the feeling of being in the air, and those short moments when you're suspended in the air. That's the feeling I want to capture."

Li has suffered from injuries in recent years, but hopes those issues are now behind her.

"When we push our limits, injuries are inevitable. I've learned to coexist with injuries and have come to terms with them. I no longer fear them. Perhaps we can even become friends," she said.

Her Olympic journey has been marked by plenty of ups and downs. She first stepped onto the Olympic stage at the 2008 Beijing Games, but has never managed to advance beyond the qualification rounds.

Last year's delayed Tokyo Olympics were especially tough, as she failed to clear the bar with any of her attempts.

"I felt confident going into Tokyo," Li said. "But then there was a rain postponement and that really wasted my energy. So I couldn't deliver a very good performance.

"That was such a blow. I was in shock. I even wanted to retire because I went through a lot of preparations and in one moment everything was destroyed because the weather was not good."

She didn't retire. Instead, she redoubled her efforts to prepare for the upcoming Paris Olympic Games.

"On this journey I still need to overcome a lot of challenges, I believe I have the capability to overcome difficulties and perform even better," she said.

"I hope to train even harder this winter and experience that feeling of 'throwing myself into the air' at the Paris Olympics next year. This feeling has always been my goal."

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