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China Daily Global / 2021-05 / 04 / Page012

Grandma's big regret fuels Zheng's Tokyo tilt

China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-05-04 00:00

Family's storied Olympic past giving naturalized athlete extra motivation

XI'AN, Shaanxi-Newly naturalized Chinese athlete Zheng Ninali dominated the women's heptathlon at last week's athletics test event for the 14th National Games.

The 22-year-old won all seven disciplines, but wasn't satisfied with her result as she scored 6,153 points, just shy of the 6,240-point qualification mark for this summer's Tokyo Olympics.

Canada-born Zheng, whose birth name is Nina Schultz, is eager to make up for her grandmother Zheng Fengrong's regrets on missing the 1956 Olympics.

Zheng Fengrong, 84, is a Chinese athletics legend. The high jumper was selected for the Chinese national team in 1953, and three years later was confident of reaching the Olympic podium, only for China to boycott the 1956 Games in Melbourne.

The following year, Zheng Fengrong broke the women's high jump world record-the nation's first such global mark in athletics.

In 2008, Zheng Fengrong was a torchbearer at the Beijing Games, but she still regrets missing out on competing at the Olympics.

After Zheng Ninali's mother divorced in 2000, Zheng Fengrong and her husband, Duan Qiyan, began helping to take care of Zheng Ninali and her elder brother, Zheng Enlai.

"When Tiger (Enlai) went roller skating when he was 6, Nina (Ninali) kept running after him. Little Nina was a courageous girl. She even jumped off a meter-high platform when she was a kid," said Zheng Fengrong.

"Both Nina and Tiger inherited our family's sporting talent."

Zheng Ninali began athletics training as a child in Canada, where her grandfather was her coach. In 2017, she took part in the 13th National Games in Tianjin as an overseas Chinese.

In 2018, she pocketed heptathlon silver at the Commonwealth Games in Australia, representing Canada.

"When Nina was about 20, she told us she wanted to represent China at the Tokyo Olympics. I hugged her and burst into tears," Zheng Fengrong told Xinhua.

The young athlete decided to take a Chinese name, opting for Zheng, after her grandmother, and choosing Li, after her mother's family name, as part of her first name.

To chase her family's Olympic dream, Zheng Ninali trained by herself in the United States as a college student amid the COVID-19 pandemic. She not only performed well academically, but also improved a lot across the seven disciplines.

Zheng Fengrong said her granddaughter was confident and self-disciplined. To prepare for the Olympic Games and September's 14th National Games, Zheng Ninali dropped out of school and left for China in January 2021.

"She has improved a lot in the javelin and shot put since her return. We are expecting her to bring us more surprises," Zheng Fengrong said.

According to World Athletics, Zheng Ninali has been eligible to compete for China since April 12 this year. Zheng Enlai was naturalized in 2017 and joined China's national ice hockey team.

"We do believe that there is always a special link between the Olympics and our family," Zheng Fengrong said.


Zheng Ninali clears a hurdle at the athletics test event for the 14th National Games in Xi'an on April 27. The newly naturalized Chinese won all seven disciplines in the heptathlon to score 6,153 points, missing the 6,240-point qualifying mark for the Tokyo Olympics. The Canada-born athlete's grandmother, Zheng Fengrong, is a former high jump world-record holder. CHINA DAILY



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