Athlete of the Month - December 2013
Arguably one of China's most successful rowers internationally, Dongxiang Xu won silver in the lightweight women's double sculls at the London 2012 Olympic Games. This was Xu's third Olympic showing and her third time of being an A-finallist.
Xu set the World Best Time for the lightweight double in 2006 (with then partner Yan Shimin), a time that held for six years. She also has a stack of World Cup medals and has been a constant in the lightweight double ever since making the Chinese national team as a 19-year-old.
Growing up in a small village Xu can attribute some of her sporting strength and strength of character to a youth spent labouring on the family farm. Xu is World Rowing's first Athlete of the Month from China and we are proud to share her experiences with you.
World Rowing: As World Rowing's first Athlete of the Month from China, tell us something that makes China unique in the world of rowing?
Dongxiang Xu: China is a great sports nation. Our Chinese athletes work hard and can bear hardships. We also like to use our brains. I think I have a talent in rowing, as I have a very good feel of the water.
WR: Tell us how you first got into rowing and what were your first impressions of the sport?
DX: I was introduced to rowing by my PE teacher at high school. When I first watched rowing, I found it fun and very cool!
WR: Are there any other athletes in your family?
DX: My husband is also a professional rower. My dad also really likes sports in general.
WR: Did you do any other sport before you started rowing?
DX: Rowing is my first professional sport. Before that I was only a high school student. (World Rowing note: Xu has a background in athletics, predominantly shot put and discus, but these were when Xu was at a sports development school so she does not consider them professional).
WR: Are you a full time rower?
DX: I am a full time professional rower and the coach of the rowing team of Zhejiang Province.
WR: You made the national team just one year after starting to row. What do you think helped you get so good at rowing so quickly?
DX: I think the reason for me being able to join the national team so quickly was my ability to comprehend rowing. When I first started rowing, my boat moved really well. I have a natural talent in rowing and, of course, I also work really hard as I want to achieve a gold medal at the Olympics.
WR: Now that you have been to three Olympic Games, what has kept you in the sport for longer than most rowers in China stay in the sport?
DX: My professional rowing life is quite normal compared to other (Chinese) rowers. In order to achieve good results in rowing it needs a lot of experience and technique. There are a lot of European rowers who have participated in four or five Olympics and I am really envious of them as I really love rowing. Also injury prevention is very important. Having no injury extends an athlete’s career.
WR: After winning silver at the London Olympics, did you receive much recognition in China?
DX: Even though I only got a silver medal, it was viewed as having the same value as a gold medal.
WR: Where are you at present and where will you be for the month of December?
DX: My current home is in my hometown Hangzhou. It is a very beautiful city. I will be here throughout December.
WR: What is your typical day like at the moment?
DX: I live a normal life like other normal people. I go to work at 8:30am and finish at 5:00pm. Of course I still train every day either in the afternoon or evening when I am free.
WR: Do you have any races coming up?
DX: At the moment I have no other races lined up. In the next two years I will be studying. If I have an opportunity I would like to go abroad to study.
World Rowing: You mentioned that your husband is a rower.
Dongxiang Xu: My husband's name is Jie Sun. He rows in the men's double.
WR: Do you and Jie Sun talk about rowing, or try not to?
DX: We always talk about rowing. We learn from each other and push each other in the sport.
WR: Have your parents seen you race? Did they get to the London Olympics?
DX: My parents understand rowing but they haven’t been to any races to watch me race. During my races a lot of my relatives, friends, journalists and officials went to my home to watch me race on TV and cheered for me.
WR: How do your parents describe what you do to people they know?
DX: My parents had watched me during my training. They will describe my training in details to people and explain in details how hard it is. They will also talk about how I started from learning to swim first, then bit by bit to what I am now.
WR: You mentioned that you also coach rowing. How do you fit this into your training and how do you switch from being a coach to being coached?
DX: I started to be the assistant coach of the Zhejiang Province women lightweight rowing team in 2005. I have always used my spare time to coach other team members. I coach them on ergometer training and other fitness training.
WR: What age group do you coach? - How would you describe your coaching style?
DX: The age group I coached is between 15 and 25. I have also coached my partner and we competed in the World Rowing Cup and the World Rowing Championships together (in which we came first). My coaching style is similar to my own training style – mainly focus on good rowing technique, using the weight transfer principle to increase the rowing speed. But in order to achieve this it needs very accurate technique and accurate point of force. I demand a high standard in my training but I am not a harsh coach! The main point is that the rowers need to enjoy and like rowing too.
WR: When not rowing what do you like to do?
DX: I use my spare time outside work to train, like playing tennis or badminton. Besides rowing, I like travelling and spending time with my family.
WR: Do you have any rowing mentors or sports heroes?
DX: My mentor is my first coach after I became professional rower – his name is Qun Liu. He is an excellent coach. My sporting hero is Great Britain’s Steve Redgrave – he has won five Olympic gold medals in rowing. He partnered with different rowers and could still win gold medals in the Olympic.
WR: What is your current goal, are you aiming for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games?
DX: My current goal is to have a healthy baby next year :).