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China Focus: 100 days after quake, athletes from Sichuan fight and shine at Beijing Olympics(08/20/08)

by Xinhua writers Zhou Yan, Feng Changyong and Yu Xiaojie

BEIJING/CHENGDU, Aug. 19 (Xinhua) -- Gymnast Zou Kai snatched a gold medal in men's horizontal bar on Tuesday to become the first, and most likely the only triple-crowned Chinese Olympian at the Beijing Games, and the glory came exactly 100 days after an 8.0-magnitude earthquake devastated his home province of Sichuan.

"I was here to fight for the gold today," said Zou, 20, after winning the final on Tuesday afternoon. "I was very nervous, but I had already won two gold medals at these Games, so my psychological state was better than my competitors."

Zou won a team gold on Aug. 12 and an individual gold in men's floor exercise on Sunday.

Since he won his first gold last week, Zou has hoped to share the honor with the folks in Sichuan. "It was their solidarity and unyielding spirit in the face of crisis that inspired me to perform well in the competition," Zou wrote in his blog on China's leading portal website sina.com.cn.

Tuesday is the 100th day since the May 12 quake that claimed nearly 70,000 lives, left 17,923 others missing and destroyed the homes of more than 10 million people. It is a date to mourn the deceased, burn them "paper money" or offer sacrifices as the Chinese tradition goes.

Zou's home city of Luzhou was not in the quake epicenter, but he was extremely worried when the strong tremor cut off communication and made it impossible for him to get through to his family on the phone.

Later, his parents managed to get in touch with him, telling him they were fine, and asking him to concentrate on his training for the Olympics.

"Everyone in the team gave me a lot of care after the quake," said Zou. "Their love and concern have been extremely touching and encouraging to me."

Fighting for glory at the world's biggest sports rally has been a tradition for athletes from Sichuan, who are reputed for their readiness to endure hardships and ability to overcome all difficulties.

Sichuan athletes have won gold medals for China at almost all the previous summer Olympics the country took part in.

Despite widespread grief and the demanding job of reconstruction, the southwestern province, one of the most populous in China, sent a record number of 34 athletes to compete at the Beijing Games. All the athletes vowed that they would fight to honor their home province, and reward the kind assistance from other parts of the country with "best possible performance."

"I'll do my best on behalf of my folks, so that the whole world will remember the people from Sichuan as unyielding fighters," said tennis player Zheng Jie prior to the Olympics.

Faced with overwhelming opponents like the Williams sisters of the United States and the Russian duo Kuznetsova Svetlana and Safina Dinara, Zheng and her teammate Yan Zi, also a Sichuan native, fought valiantly to take a bronze in women's tennis doubles on Sunday.

While the Sichuan athletes were trying their best to deliver on the home field, their provincial folks, as part of the nearly 1 billion Chinese viewers glued to their TVs for the Games, were watching them with zeal and anticipation.

"Quiet please, Zou Kai will be competing soon," an old man interrupted the loud women sitting next to him at a teahouse in downtown Chengdu, the provincial capital, on Tuesday. The place instantly became silent until everyone roared again at Zou's perfect performance.

"The Olympic competitions are just like the post-quake rebuilding," said a Chengdu taxi driver, who rested his car to watch Zou play on TV in a teahouse. "There's no difficulty that we cannot get over with, as long as we try with all our hearts."

But it will certainly take some time, as aftershocks are still felt from time to time even in Chengdu, some 200 kilometers from the epicenter of Wenchuan.

On Aug. 12, the Sichuan provincial government announced the full resettlement of the over 10 million displaced people, who had all moved into temporary houses provided by the government or built by themselves with government subsidies.

Vice Provincial Governor Huang Yanrong said on Tuesday that the government would try its best to provide safe, permanent housing for all quake-affected people by the end of 2010.

And many people in the areas worst hit by the earthquake missed Zou's Olympic victory on Tuesday, as they concentrated their attention on the mourning of their lost families or friends.

Beichuan, a county that perished in the quake with more than 15,000 dead and several thousand missing, and has since been closed for epidemic prevention, was reopened to some 20,000 mourners on Tuesday.

"We decided to reopen the county for just one day, because we understand how these people feel," said Beichuan deputy mayor Qu Yong'an. "They have to mourn their dead family members on this particular day."

A downpour and subsequent mudflows in the day failed to disturb the grief-laden survivors of Beichuan, who tried hard to find the final resting places of their beloved ones, in the rubble of toppled homes and school buildings.

"Didn't you tell me you wanted a little brother or sister? Mom and dad promise to get you one -- someone as good and pretty as you were," a father choked in the ruins of Beichuan Middle School as he lit firecrackers and offered snacks to mourn his deceased daughter.

A boy stood nearby holding a group photo of his classmates, many of whom died in the quake. "Next year I'll take the college entrance exam," he said. "I'll do my best and try to enter a top university. And I promise I'll come back to share with you everything about my new life."

Exactly three months ago, on May 19, the whole nation had stood in silent tribute to mourn the quake dead, from top leaders in the central government compound of Zhongnanhai to ordinary people on the street.



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