Gong Zhi Chao: The Striking Player
At the beginning of 1997, when people had just heard of her name, not even knowing how she looks like, Gong Zhi Chao had already earned the Swedish Open title, Japan Open, Korean Open and the All-England Open runner-up titles to her name. She created the fastest rise in the history of International Ladies Singles' World Rankings.
"Who is Gong Zhi Chao? Where does she come from?", people would ask each other.
Born on the 15 of December, 1977, in Hunan(China), An Hua City.
Although An Hua City is considered as one of the smallest cities in China, it has managed to produce two badminton world beaters. Two time Uber Cup champion team member Tang Jiuhong, also came from the same city as Gong Zhi Chao. Tang Jiu Hong was Gong Zhi Chao's idol as a teenager.
In 1987, the young badminton player, Gong Zhi Chao, was studying in Xiang Hua Zi Di Primary School. One fine day, she saw her Physical Education teacher playing badminton with his daughter. She observed the small feather shuttlecock as it flew to and fro. Soon enough, she was totally engrossed in it. It was as if the shuttlecock was bekoning her to come forward to try, and the temptation was very great indeed. Finally, she plucked up all the courage she could master and asked, " Can I play too?" Her teacher readily agreed. First, he taught her about the basics, like how to hold the racquet, service etc. Gong Zhi Chao participated excitedlly for the whole afternoon, and this was how she got acquainted with badminton.
In the same year, Gong Zhi Chao was selected into the school's badminton team. Everyday before the break of dawn, she would be woken up by the loud and ear piercing whistle. Under the supervision of Mr.Wen Ju Gang, she would go jogging, then on to attend classes, and after school's dismissal, back to the badminton courts again. Gong Zhi Chao's parents missed her very much, so they would order her elder brother and sister to look out for her in school. On one occasion, Gong Zhi Chao's brother noticed that some blisters had formed on her hands after going through rigour trainings. He immediately went home to tell the family about this, saying that, " San San( Gong Zhi Chao's nickname ) trains really hard until there's blood blisters formed on her hand. I told her to stop playing, but she refused and insisted on carrying on..." Upon hearing this, Gong Zhi Chao's mother was so worried and heart-broken about her dearest youngest daughter. She heard that eating dishes with pork's hand in it not only helps to revive health, and also helps in improving stamina. Though they belong to a humble background, they tried means and ways to earn money to buy the meat for their beloved daughter. So every weekend, when Gong Zhi Chao gets to go home, her mother would never forget to cook "pork's hand" soup for her. On following Mondays, other than bringing back fruits, she would be given two pieces of roasted pork's hand to eat. Gong Zhi Chao's father oftened held her small hand and pat it, telling her in a soothing tone, " Bear with it, you must bear with it...it is like that when you are young. Persevere when young, that's the only way you can success when you grow up. Tang Jiu Hong had to go through all this too..."
Once during training, the coach placed a stool under a basketball post and said, " We are now going to train up the springing strength in our footwork. Stand on the stool and jump up as high as you can, and reach for the net above." After demonstrating, all the trainees immediately got down to doing it. When it came to Gong Zhi Chao's turn, she stood on the stool motionless for a very long time. " Why aren't you jumping?", the coach asked. " I'm a little afraid." she replied timidly. " What is there to be afraid of ?!" Her coach shouted at her with anger in his words. Actually, Gong Zhi Chao herself could not figure out why she was afraid. " If you still don't do this practice, don't think of having dinner tonight, just sit there and watch!" her coach continued to say, this time even louder. After another two rounds or so, the coach waved his hand across the court, " Come and give it a try." So she bit her lips, jumped in a forward motion, touched the net with her right hand, and landed on the ground safely on her feet. " Do it again.", was the coach's encouragement. With that, she repeated the step five times. The more she tried, the more comfortable she felt. Maybe this was her first problem she overcomed on the road to success.
In 1989, Gong Zhi Chao made it into the Hunan Badminton Provincial Team. "Gong Zhi Chao can only grow to about 1.65m at the most, thus not having any advantages on court. I don't think she can go very far this way..." Unintentionally, she overheard one of her coaches saying. Although she had come this far and her skills improved rapidly day by day, she developed a huge mental obstacle. She used to envy all those who was tall and strong in built, and thus made herself more devastated as she was not very tall. However, this problem of hers did not escape the eyes of another coach, Li Fang. Li Fang simply told her, " Indonesia's Susi Susanti has almost the same built as you, yet she is a great player. Why can't you do it when she can?" The quick witted Gong Zhi Chao then realised that being tall is not the only condition to become a good player.At that time, the China National Badminton Competition was going on in Changsha( the capital of Hunan province ). Gong Zhi Chao was the most important player in the team. In many matches, victory depended very much on her. Though there was tremandous pressure, she kept calm and steady. Together with her teammates, they managed to defeat numerous top players. This helped Gong Zhi Chao in regaining her confidence.
In 1992, when Gong Zhi Chao was only 15 years old, her father was seriously ill and had to be hospitallised. Upon receiving the bad news, she rushed back to Zhu Zhou from Changsha. By then, she was only in time to hear her father's last words, " Listen to your mother and be a good girl; Listen to your coach, work hard and play well. I hope you can be part of the China National Team next time and bring back the World Championship title..." Tears filled up her eyes.
" To earn a place in the National team, to strive for the World Championship title" became Gong Zhi Chao's dream. Luckily she was not the kind of player who only knew how to dream. She knew that in order to fufill the dream she and her father shared, lots of effort, hard work and sweat had to be put in.
In the year end of 1995, the China Badminton Team held a selection trial in Bejing( the capital of China ). Gong Zhi Chao swept through the competition easily and made her way into the National B Team ( normally for juniors ).
The China Badminton Team oftened held competitions between the A and B team. ( The A team is the group that represents China in international tournaments ) Any player from the B team that manages to beat some quality players from the A team convincingly, would be able to rise up into the A team. This time, Gong Zhi Chao proved to the national coaches all that she was worth. In the middle of 1996, she finally became part of the China National Team( team A ), under the guidence of coach Li Ling Wei.
Gong Zhi Chao has a height of 1.63m and weighs 53kg, therefore being the most duminitive one among the other team members. Some may think that this is a disadvantage to her, but in actual fact, it enables her to move quickly, giving her the full coverage on court. Gong Zhi Chao's nature during matches is to be lively in her movements, steady and go stroke for stroke. She pocesses great mental strength, causing her to fight for every point, no matter whether the score is to her advantage or disadvantage. Normally, she will manupilate her opponent until she finds a loop hole. Then, she will advance in on that particular weak point/s to get hold of the trump card. In several occasions, she fought off her opponents' match points to come back into the game and pulled off the winning point for herself. This goes to show that she is very capable of handling situations in times of anxiety and pressure.
During a badminton competition, players will drain more stamina compared to a soccer player. What is worse is that the style of Gong Zhi Chao's play is even more strenuous. Ever since Li Yong Bo became the head coach of the China Badminton team, he'd make the team members run up a mountain called Xiang Shan Gui Jian Chou in Xi Shan, Beijing, every fortnight. This mountain is about 500 metres above sea level and has a gradient of 50 to 60 degrees.Tourist would take two to three hours walking up, whereas Gong Zhi Chao only needs 18 minutes to run from the bottom to the top of the mountain. She would also take the initiative to run up twice too.
During trainings, Gong Zhi Chao will wear special clothings filled with sand that weighs about 6 kg to do her runnings, jumps, and strokings.Sweat would pour down profusely and make her t-shirt completely soaking wet. But does that matter to her? Of course it does not for a dedicated player like her. All she have to do is to change into yet another one.
To increase her arm strength, Li Ling Wei enjoined Gong Zhi Chao to train a few more sets of what they call " throwing strength ball" everyday. The ball, as heavy as the ones used for shot putting, have to be thrown towards a barrier, for example, a wall. Even during her trips to overseas tournaments, she will never forget to bring one of those balls. No matter whether she is in the hotel or stadium, whether she just won or lost a match, as long as she is free, she will do this exercise till her hand gets totally strained.
Incidentally, the hostel room that Gong Zhi Chao is now staying in is exactly the same room as the one Tang Jiu Hong lived in ten years ago.
Before Gong Zhi Chao's entry into the China Badminton team, there were Ye Zhao Ying, Zhang Ning, Yao Yan, Dai Yun, Zeng Ya Qiong, Wang Chen and Han Jing Na that took up only seven places out of the eight places of "immortals" or "fairies". People used to compare them to a Chinese lengendary story " Dong You Ji", in which all the eight fairies originate from. Each of these fairies have their own specialities, and are kind and caring immortals that help all peasants in trouble. Ever since Gong Zhi Chao joined the Chinese team of ladies' singles players, she completed the whole team of "eight fairies". She was the latest to join the team and she is also the youngest and the smallest in size.
Gong Zhi Chao respects her coach, Li Ling Wei, the most, and also look up to all of her "elderly" team mates. Li Ling Wei once said," Looking at Gong Zhi Chao play and being able to be her coach, gives me a sense of happiness and security. Matches that are not to be lost, she will never lose..." But relationaship between she and her teammates is not as close, sad to say. During tournaments, they would fight to their last breath, as it is either "I win you lose, or I lose and you win ", but during meals, they all have to sit on the same table again. Nevertheless, Gong Zhi Chao commented, " If I lose to them, they are my seniors. If I defeat them, they will still remain as my seniors..."
Right now, Gong Zhi Chao shares a room with Zeng Ya Qiong. She bought a 25 inch colour television and a radio to put in her room itself. She and roommate Zeng Ya Qiong shares the same interest: watching drama serials and listening to music during their spare time for relaxation. Music to Gong Zhi Chao is so important that everytime she goes out-station for a tournament, she will bring at least two cassette tapes of favourite singers Tan Yong Lin and Wang Fei( otherwise known as Faye Wong in English ).
Ever since the death of her father, Gong Zhi Chao grew more concern about her family, especially her mother. Every two days, she would make a long distance call to talk to her mother to find out if there is any happenings at home or whether she needs anything else. When abroad, she would try her best to buy little gifts for her family too. Gong Zhi Chao is aware that her mother is a very trifty person, and would not buy spend money for her own sake. Thus, Gong Zhi Chao always buy daily necessities and warm clothings like cardigans, jackets, gloves...etc for her mother. Her mother would always say, " San San, don't always spend money to buy things for me, you should save the money for yourself." Guess what was the reply from Gong Zhi Chao? " When I was young, you'd always give me the best of everything, and I ate so much of your pig's hand dishes too! I should at least do my bit in giving all I can to my mother..." Sometimes during the Chinese New Year, she would play badminton with her brother and sister, as long as they are happy. All this goes to show that Gong Zhi Chao is a very filial girl. All in all, Gong Zhi Chao is a rare player to come by.