Girl skates rings round the boys

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 May, 2011, 12:00am

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Li Li , 18, is the mainland's only woman professional in extreme sports. Li started practising martial arts at the age of six in her hometown in the eastern province of Shandong, and at 12 she took up aggressive inline skating, popularised internationally by ESPN's annual X Games sporting events. Today, she can be seen competing against the guys, flying high into the air on half-pipes and other course obstacles, while contorting her body to optimise high-speed moves.

How did your inline skating career begin?

In 2004, a former coach of Tieqi Bingtuan, the only professional aggressive inline skating team in Beijing, saw me perform at a martial arts school in Shandong. He persuaded my parents and me to visit the company's inline skating facilities in Beijing. My parents signed the contract after I agreed to give it a try.

How did you feel when you were asked to choose between martial arts and extreme sports?

Actually, I didn't have any concerns. I was so curious about inline skating that I made the decision without hesitation. I loved martial arts, but I was intrigued when I saw people my age doing something much more exciting. My mother used to worry when I started the training here. But now she is happy to see I am following my passion.

Have martial arts helped you in the extreme sport?

I think so. All six members of our team have some martial arts background. The experience helps us keep our balance in the air, which makes our gestures elegant. I think my martial arts background helps me complete actions accurately.

What are the major difficulties you face as a woman athlete?

As the only woman professional player in the field, I am challenged both mentally and physically. It is harder for me to pluck up my courage to try new moves. After all, I know I may hurt myself if I do things wrongly. Boys usually conquer the fear more easily. In addition, during practice, I can feel the physical limits as a girl. Some moves require strong muscle strength in certain parts of the body, such as the arms or back. Boys can do certain moves much better.

Do you know any girls who want to become a professional like you?

Some girls performed [non-aggressive] inline skating in a national competition this month. I'm not sure if they were able to do fancy moves, but I hope to see more girls join the sport. Some take on aggressive inline skating as a hobby, but I have to admit there are obstacles for girls who want to make it a career. For example, my teammates used to argue with their parents about their choice of occupation. Their parents believe extreme sports are hobbies, not a means of livelihood you can rely on. I was surprised to see my parents being so supportive from the very beginning.

Do you know of any former women athletes in professional aggressive inline skating?

Two women players used to represent Tieqi Bingtuan before I was introduced to the sport. I never had the chance to know them, but I knew they were good at what they did. They retired in their 20s. This is another disadvantage of being a woman player. There are men still active in competition in their 30s. I don't think I can have such a long career.

How long do you practise every day?

The team follow a military routine. We get up at 6 o'clock and jog for about an hour. Then we practise separately for two hours in the morning and three hours in the afternoon. We are allowed to have some private time in the evening. Our systematic training schedule gives us a great advantage compared to amateurs.

What do you do when the competition season is over?

I teach three- and four-year-olds how to skate. I don't teach them aggressive skating, just basic skills. I have to say, teaching is more difficult than aggressive inline skating. I spend most of the time comforting scared children who cry in class. Fortunately, their parents are very helpful.

How do you support yourself financially?

I have three sources of income: a monthly salary if I attend the daily training, tuition fees from the skating class and bonuses earned from contests. I am financially independent.

What was your last award?

I finished in third place in the skills event at last year's national competition. I was proud of myself because it was hard to crack the top three. The judges would not lower the scoring standards for me because of my sex. This year, unfortunately, I failed to make the top eight. I hurt one of my ankles during practice an hour before my performance in the competition.

What is the most serious injury you have ever had?

I hit the back of my head last year while doing a back flip in a competition. I suffered a concussion and was unable to recall over the next three days how I had hurt myself. After the injury, I forbade anyone from telling my parents what had happened. I didn't want them to worry and ask me to return home.

What are your plans?

I want to set up my own company to sell extreme sports equipment. I do hope to see more girls join extreme sports, especially aggressive inline skating. Also, it is never too late to start learning something new. It is possible that I will start a completely new career in the future.