May 23, 2023
BEIJING – With no clear sight of their opponents, the astonishing precision, power, passion and persistence of visually impaired para judokas is truly something to behold.
Last week’s national para judo championships in Beijing showcased these warriors’ extraordinary feats of athleticism and skill. As well as serving up pulsating action, the championships glue this sporting community together, with judokas from across the nation forming close bonds and lasting friendships through the event.
Among the 135 competitors was 2016 Rio Paralympics gold medalist Li Liqing, who won the women’s — 48kg title. Despite being a veteran of the sport, Li Liqing is still pushing her limits on the mat.
“Winning a national title was actually not so hard for me, as I have been practicing para judo for over a decade. I’m a very experienced veteran, but I certainly noticed the superb performances of a number of young athletes here. With these youngsters on the rise, our sport has a bright future,” Li Liqing told China Daily.
Recalling her early career, Li Liqing said being unable to see the coaches’ moves in practice was especially difficult. Para athletes, therefore, rely heavily on touch and feel to learn their takedowns and throws.
Winning a national title was actually not so hard for me, as I have been practicing para judo for over a decade. I’m a very experienced veteran, but I certainly noticed the superb performances of a number of young athletes here. With these youngsters on the rise, our sport has a bright future.
Li Liqing, Chinese judoka
After years of honing her skills, all Li Liqing’s hard work paid off in 2016 when she claimed gold at the Rio Paralympics.
“Before my victory at the Paralympics, I was the type of youngster who feared nothing and no one. However, after reaching the highest podium, things changed. Suddenly I was at the top and everyone started to study my moves, and I became the target,” said the 29-year-old who failed to earn a medal at the Tokyo Paralympics.
“I had no advantages and I was faced with new challenges. So after Tokyo, I began exploring new methods. Based on my body size, I needed to figure out better ways to attack and how to be more flexible. So, that’s what I’ve been working on.”
Li Liqing says her judo journey has been transformational — making her more persistent and resilient, both on and off the mat.
“Against tough rivals, I’m fearless. The greater the pressure, the more motivated I become. There are always younger athletes coming through, so I constantly need to adapt in order to figure out how to beat them,” Li Liqing added.
“But I’ve also learned that one cannot always be at the top. Inevitably, there will be ups and downs. So when I’m at the top, I need to think what challenges might lie ahead. And when I face these challenges, I just tell myself to have the right mentality and finish my training every day.”
Para judo has also changed the life of Li Peng, who won the men’s+90kg J2 level gold last Tuesday at the nationals.
“Picking up para judo has broadened my horizons. I have seen a much bigger world and it has boosted my confidence. Before I took up this sport, I spent most days at school and then at work. I knew very few people, but para judo has allowed me to integrate a lot more in society,” the 32-year-old told China Daily.
Li Peng admits that he initially found the sport intimidating when he was introduced to it back in 2009.
Picking up para judo has broadened my horizons. I have seen a much bigger world and it has boosted my confidence. Before I took up this sport, I spent most days at school and then at work. I knew very few people, but para judo has allowed me to integrate a lot more in society.
Li Peng, Chinese judoka
“When I first heard the sound of an athlete being thrown on the mat, of course I was scared. I was afraid that I could break my arms or legs. But after training, I learned how to protect myself and my opponents,” said Li Peng.
“Actually, I know most of the opponents here. We have been competing for many years, so we’ve learned from each other and also cheer for each other. We are all great friends.”
Among the cheering spectators in the stands at the national championships on Tuesday was the Chinese para ice hockey team, which surprised the nation by winning a precious bronze medal at the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games. Even for hardy hockey players, the energy and spirit of the para judo athletes were astonishing.
“This is the first time myself and my teammates have attended a para judo competition. It’s truly amazing and we are cheering them on,” said Wang Zhidong, a core player of the hockey team and a Team China flag-bearer at the Beijing 2022 opening ceremony.
“Our training base is not too far away from this competition venue. The skills that the para judokas are showcasing here are really impressive. They are so strong physically and have great spirit.”
The Chinese para judo team was founded in 1994. Since then, the squad has won nine gold, nine silver and six bronze Paralympic medals. Last week’s nationals acted as one of the trials for the Asian Para Games, which will take place in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, in October.