No 25: Tan Xue

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 July, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 July, 2008, 12:00am

Name: Tan Xue

Born: January 30, 1984 in Tianjin

Entry for Beijing Olympics: fencing, women's sabre

Major rivals: Sada Jacobson (US), Mariel Zagunis (US), Elena Netchaeva (Russia)

Career highlights: Silver medal, 2004 Athens Olympics; Gold medal, 2002 world championship

The fencing piste isn't the only place for Tan Xue to shine. She also played a role at the Communist Party's 17th National Congress.

Proudly wearing her red-and-yellow national team uniform, the 24-year-old fencer - the youngest of the 2,287 delegates in the Great Hall of the People last year - was easy to spot.

This rare experience for one so young has helped Tan overcome fragile nerves, making her favourite to win China's first gold medal in the discipline.

'It was a life-changing experience for me,' said Tan, one of 17 athlete delegates at the congress. 'I became more mature after being part of such an important gathering with much more experienced delegates and talking about important issues that affect the nation. I know I represented millions of people, the experience gives me a lot of courage and makes me believe I can do something for the Chinese people.'

Courage might be Tan's key ingredient, as in the eyes of many she has been short of it on big occasions.

As the nation's most talented women's sabre specialist, Tan was just one match away from China's second Olympic fencing title at the Athens Games. Luan Jujie won the first in the women's foil in 1984 in Los Angeles.

Despite being an overwhelming favourite after defeating then world-best Sada Jacobson, of the United States, in the semi-finals, Tan lost her focus in the title match against Mariel Zagunis, a little-known back-up for the US team, and had to settle for silver.

Tan struggled with the failure until she was selected as a Party delegate representing Tianjin.

'I used to feel I was not able to give my best in major tournaments,' she said. 'So attending such an assembly at such a young age has given a really important recharge to my career. I believe I won't throw away the chance when it comes around again.'

Apart from the loss in Athens, Tan has achieved plenty in her short sporting career.

She switched from hurdling to fencing at 16 and soon became the youngest Chinese and Asian champion, winning the women's sabre at the national and Asian championships a year later. In 2002, aged 18, she became China's first fencing world champion.

With the help of legendary French coach Christina Bauer, who was hired in 2006, Tan consolidated her position by winning six World Cup series events, including five in a row in 2007.

'The target is Olympic gold, there is no second option,' Bauer said. 'With her technique and experience, she can achieve that. I am sure she is ready.'