No 15: Meng Guanliang & Yang Wenjun

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 July, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 July, 2008, 12:00am

Name: Meng Guanliang

Date of birth: October 24, 1977, in Zhejiang province

Olympic entry: canoeing, men's C2 500m

Career highlights: Gold medal, C2 500m, 2004 Athens Olympics

Name: Yang Wenjun

Born: December 25, 1983 in Jiangxi province

Meng Guanliang and Yang Wenjun are typical of China's relentless sports production line. The only thing that separates them from many others is luck. In the C2 500m at the 2004 Olympics, they found themselves in a six-boat photo-finish, separated by just 0.580 seconds.

A replay of the final saw the judges award the gold medal to the Chinese duo, giving the country one of its most thrilling victories in Athens, if not in the mainland's Olympic history.
Apart from the breathtaking finish, the win was also noteworthy because it was China's first in 'water sports' - meaning canoeing, kayaking and rowing.

Four years later, they remain the country's best hope in water sports, though after plenty of twists and turns.

Both Meng and Yang insisted on retiring following the 2004 Games. Years of training in isolation had exhausted them, both physically and mentally, they claimed. Yang was in his early 20s while Meng was approaching 30, normally the prime time for a canoeing career, and the plea reflected the pressure of full-time sports training on China's elite athletes.

Meng got his way, but was persuaded back on board in late 2006, while Yang's retirement was never given the green light, and he was once forced to switch to single canoe.

The authorities have never revealed how they got the pair to change their minds. But one thing is certain - the lay-off had its consequences.

'Meng quit for one and a half years ... when he first came back he weighed 100kg,' recalled Josef Capousek, the German who was recently ousted as head coach of the national kayak/canoe team.

'They didn't recover top form until after January, when the pair went through a specially designed six-week regime in Kunming.

'Before that they relied on sheer power. The regime equipped them with good endurance.'

Capousek rates the C2 as the mainland's best gold medal hope in water sports at the Games.

Meng and Yang's recent streak - they won the past two legs of this year's three World Cup events - supports Capousek's forecast.

'We are glad to be on top in a world-class field like this,' said Yang after winning the final World Cup regatta in Duisburg, Germany. 'Hopefully, it's a good sign for our [gold medal] defence.'