Olympic gymnast tries to vault into Open

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 October, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 October, 2005, 12:00am

Three women and an Olympic double gold medallist will tee off today at Beijing CBD International Golf Club in an attempt to qualify for next month's Volvo China Open at Shenzhen Golf Club.

China's top two-ranked female pros - Zhong Xiaolong and Zhang Na, along with leading amateur Cao Yuhui - will compete with almost 60 male players, including former Olympic gymnastic champion Li Xiaoshuang, a gold medallist at Barcelona in 1992 and Atlanta in 1996.

Li is a regular face in celebrity events in Beijing and two weeks ago played in a charity golf event with former US President Bill Clinton. 'I entered the tournament to test myself,' said Li, a six-handicapper. 'I doubt I can win one of the three places for the China Open, but it's going to be fun to try.'

When asked if he intended to pursue a career in professional golf, the 32-year-old said 'golf would always be for fun'.

Despite his success as an Olympic gymnast, which included becoming the overall champion in Atlanta, Li said he now played no role in the sport. He runs his own manufacturing and retailing business that produces a range of sportswear bearing his name.

Li's chances of qualifying for the US$1.3 million Shenzhen event are considered to be slim, but China's number two-ranked female player Zhang feels she has a good chance of qualifying for the biggest event of her professional life.

'I wouldn't be here if I didn't think I could qualify,' said the 24-year-old Beijing resident. 'I played my first round on the course yesterday and feel confident I can shoot 74 or better. I checked the entry list to see who would be playing, and feel if I concentrate well and play my own game I can take one of the top three spots.'

Zhang turned pro in April last year, and won her first title in January when she shot 67 in the final round of the Wu Yi Cup in Guangdong province. This year she has 10 events planned on her schedule, including most of the stops on the Ladies Asian Golf Tour. Today's event is the second of the three pre-qualifying events in which eight mainland players will win an exemption to the China Open (November 24-27).

The top three players will qualify from today's event.