China’s most decorated Winter Olympian broke her ankle in training on Thursday, leaving her participation in the Sochi Games in serious doubt.
Short-track speed skater Wang Meng suffered the injury while practising in Shanghai, Sohu sports internet portal said, just 22 days before the Games where she hoped to add to her tally of four gold medals, a silver and a bronze.
“At a morning training session, Wang Meng accidently fell and suffered a fracture injury,” the report said.
Other reports said she would have surgery which would require three months recovery – probably ruling her out of Sochi.
The loss of the 28-year-old star skater would be a bitter blow for China, with Wang having taken three of the national team’s five gold medals at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.
There, the current overall world champion won gold in the 500 metres, 1000 metres and 3,000-metres relay.
She also won the 500-metres gold at the Turin Winter Olympics in 2006 – she is the current world record holder at the distance – along with the 1000-metre silver and 1,500-metre bronze.
The skater, from the northeastern province of Heilongjiang, is as controversial as she is successful.
She has a temper as fiery as her often dyed-red hair and has had several run-ins with the nation’s sports authorities, who banned her from the national team for brawling with her manager in a drink-fuelled clash in 2011.
State media branded the team “spoilt skaters” following the widely publicised incident, which resulted in Wang severely cutting her hands after she smashed up her room at a training camp in the eastern city of Qingdao.
Pictured in reports looking dejected and heavily bandaged, Wang was ordered by officials to “reflect on her behaviour” after her actions “jeopardised the sport’s image”.
Many questioned whether there was any way back for the former golden girl of Chinese sport.
But officials lifted the ban 13 months later in September 2012, which appeared to open the door for Wang to build on her medals tally.
“When you look back on things when you were young, you will always regret something you feel you did wrong,” Wang said in a recent interview.
“You regard it as a very important step in your life,” added Wang, who beat tennis star Li Na to be named female athlete of the year by Chinese media following her heroics in Vancouver.
The row in Qingdao was said to have been sparked after Wang and her teammates broke a curfew to go out drinking - although at the time the players blamed the coaches for the clash.
It was not the first time the skater had come to sports officials’ attention for disciplinary reasons.
She and her teammates were forced to make “reconciliation” following a drunken clash with security guards in Yunnan in June 2011.
She was also dropped from the national team for half a year in 2007 after criticising a coach for poor tactics at the Asian Winter Games.
“As a team we’ve been living together for eight years. It’s unlikely every day is a happy one,” Wang said.
“There are likely to be quarrels like there are in a family. But we have them because we have the same goals and tasks to complete.
“So if a fight occurs, it’s not necessarily something that can’t be resolved. I think that’s an issue of the past.”