CHONGLI, Zhangjiakou, Feb. 14 (Xinhua) -- Trained as a gymnast from the age of four and switched to aerials skiing in 2001, Xu Mengtao has been pursuing the Olympic top honor in the women's free ski aerials for 21 years, both for herself and for her motherland.
At the age of 31 in her fourth Olympic outing on Monday night, Xu realized her dream by winning the gold with 108.61 points for her world's top-notch trick of back-full-full-full which boasts of the difficulty degree of 4.293 at the Genting Snow Park of Beijing 2022.
After Han Xiaopeng made the breakthrough in the men's aerials at Turin 2006, China, one of the powerhouses in the free ski aerials, has been waiting for 16 years to win its second Olympic gold from the discipline.
Furthermore, it is also the fifth gold medal for China at Beijing 2022, which equalled the record number of golds taken by China in a single Winter Olympics at Vancouver 2010.
After tough training for five years, Xu made her international debut in the 2006 World Cup in Beida Lake with a seven-place finish.
Yet, a twist of fortune beckoned her when she suffered a rupture to the anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament in her right knee during the 2007 National Championships. She spent the rest of the season in rehabilitation, and didn't dare to reveal the injury to her parents until two more years later.
It was not until Vancouver 2010 that she reeled off her Olympic adventure by making it to the sixth at the age of 19. Four years later at Sochi 2014, she collected a silver and became the key member of the Chinese team. Hailed as one of the hots for PyeongChang 2018, she failed in her landing to rank in a disappointing ninth place while her father stood watching and could comfort her only with big hugs and tears.
"My father is a hero. He did a lot for me but I did not accompany him for quite a long time. I'll make dumplings for him after the Olympics," said Xu after her victory.
During the past 21 years, Xu has attended six World Championships and harvested one gold (2013), two silver (2009, 2011) and three bronze (2015, 2017, 2019). Of her over 70 World Cups, she has made to the podium most of the time including 27 victories, with her most recent title won on January 5, 2022 in Le Relais.
Xu was awarded the "First-Class Medal Athlete in Sports" by the China General Administration of Sports in 2020. Her form reached the peak in the 2021-22 season, as she topped the all-time aerials list by overtaking Jacqui Cooper of Australia with a win in Finland in December 2021.
Her campaign at Beijing 2022 started on February 10 in the mixed team final, an odds-on event for the host athletes who took the silver eventually after one of her teammates made an error-prone landing.
Then came the women's aerials with its qualification rescheduled from Sunday to Monday due to heavy snow, and the final to be completed in the evening. Such a tight schedule posed tougher challenges for the athletes.
Meanwhile, the final adopts a different format this time, featuring two stages. During the first stage, all the 12 finalists make two jumps each and are ranked with their best jumps, with the top six making to the second stage where each of them has only one decisive jump.
Both Xu and teammate Kong Fanyu, the PyeongChang 2018 bronze medalist, advanced to the second stage as the second and third finishers in the first stage.
In the breathtaking grand final, PyeongChang 2018 champion Hanna Huskova from Belarus, 29, came out first to collect 107.95 points on her trick with the difficulty degree of 4.028, which exerted great pressure on her rivals.
Then, four athletes including Australian ace Laura Peel, American star Ashley Caldwell and Kong tried to perform the back-full-full-full trick, but only Xu succeeded.
"Taotao (Xu Mengtao) is an incredible athlete. She's been at the top of the sport for a long time, so I really respect her," said Peel who finished fifth.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Xu's father could only watch the live stream at home instead and he couldn't hold his tears for her triumph.
With tears in her eyes, Xu waved the national flag, whooping "I win!"