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Xu now a champion promoter

Updated: 2013-11-03 08:11
By Sun Xiaochen in Shenzhen ( China Daily)

"Winning the Olympic medal has brought me such a lot of recognition in the sailing world ... But what I care most about is how I can use my influence to lure more people to the sport of sailing."

Sailing star is riding wave of popularity in China

China's Olympic champion sailor, Xu Lijia, has devoted herself to promoting the sport which has brought her fame, fortune and a positive mindset. When Xu, winner of the Laser Radial class in London, steered the CYA Vatti boat as the helmswoman at the China Cup International Regatta last week, few noticed the 26-year-old could barely raise her arm due to a serious shoulder injury she suffered at the World Cup regatta in Qingdao.

Still, the Shanghai native tried to make every possible event, on and off the water, to market sailing.

"Winning the Olympic medal has brought me such a lot of recognition in the sailing world; a bigger fan base and commercial endorsements," Xu told China Daily during the China Cup. "But what I care most about is how I can use my influence to lure more people to the sport of sailing."

Apart from racing as a crew member, Xu was also active in off-boat activities. She made time for media interviews, met fans and socialized with foreign sailors and officials at a number of banquets

The quiet-spoken Xu even worked on her makeup skills as she realized her image could become a major marketing ploy for the sport and her country.

"It's one of the new lessons for me (after London), though I am not interested in it. But I realize it is important to be elegant at some formal occasions," said Xu, who was elected one of four female members of the International Sailing Federation Athletes' Commission in August.

Though she had a light schedule this year, Xu graduated from the Jiao Tong University in Shanghai, where she began a human resources management course in 2009.

To further enhance her skills, Xu has decided to continue studying for a Master's degree.

"At the top level of sailing you have to control the boat with your heart rather than your body. That's why I have to keep learning," said Xu, who enjoys reading and surfing the internet in her spare time.

To promote the sport, Xu took part in a number of team sailing events, which provided her with the opportunity to test her skills in a wide variety of boats.

Xu had her first experience on a multi-hull yacht when she was invited to join the crew of China Team at the America's Cup qualifiers in Naples, Italy, in April. She got another chance to sail on a similar craft when she was invited to the Extreme 40 Sailing Series in Qingdao in May.

Citing the spirit of teamwork, Xu said she couldn't resist the attraction of big-boat sailing and hopes to form a women's team to participate in the next China Cup.

"Sailing used to be only a men's sport but now many elite females have proved it's more about mental power than physical strength to succeed on the ocean," said the three-time World Championships winner (in the Laser Radial and Optimist classes).

Boasting fluent English and elite performances, Xu has been compared to China tennis star Li Na, who recently rose to No 3 in the world after reaching the final of the WTA Championships in Turkey.

"Sometimes, I see a reflection of myself in Li," Xu said. "I have watched her games and followed her interviews off the court. There are a lot of similar stories behind us, such as my former Chinese coach treating me strictly as well. I rarely heard any compliments from the coach, but a lot of criticism and preaching."

However, Xu said she won't mess up her relationship with Chinese media even though her shy personality is in stark contrast to Li's more outspoken style.

"What I feel envious about in regards to Li is she can play around the world with her husband by her side. There are also a lot of romance stories in the sailing world and I will accept that when it becomes part of my destiny," Xu said.

(China Daily 11/03/2013 page8)