Film details journey of China's first Tibetan Olympian

By Zhou Yu Source:Global Times Published: 2015-7-31 5:03:01

Qieyang Shenjie competes at the 2012 Olympic Games on August 11, 2012, in London. Photo: IC

Poster of the film 40,000 Kilometers Photo: Courtesy of Renqing Zhuoma

Audiences have described it as breathtaking and heartwarming.

On July 19, a movie dedicated to the spirit of sports on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau was shown at the closing ceremony of the Beijing Sports Film Festival.

The astonishing scenery in the film was one of the things that attracted audiences most. The film reaches the climax when a girl runs around the Qinghai Lake and across mountains, winning a standing ovation for the film and its director Ke Ke from many viewers.

The film, 40,000 Kilometers, was the first to be produced and directed by Tibetans, dedicated to a Tibetan female athlete and shot in Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau.

The film is fictional but is based on a true story and real people. It is the coming of age story of Qieyang Shijie, who became China's first Tibetan Olympic medalist at the 2012 London Olympic Games.

"Qieyang was such an inspirational figure for us. Her struggle in the field of sports and her luck at being discovered and trained by an excellent Han people coach have been a great source of encouragement for young people in poor regions engaged in sports," Renqing Zhouma, the film's Tibetan producer told the Global Times. The film will have its international premier in a few months at Milan sports film festival.

Beauty on the prairie

Qieyang was born in 1990, in Haiyan county, Haibei Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Qinghai Province. Her parents are nomads and her family was poor, but her hometown had a rich culture of music and sports. 

African-American singer Paul Robeson once sang a famous folk song originating from Haiyan, Qieyang's hometown.

Music and sports are part of Tibetans' life on the prairie. Running, horse racing, wrestling, and long jump are weekly activities for many local people. But because of a lack of funds, few schools have formal playgrounds and facilities, let alone professional equipment.

Qieyang has an elder sister, Yangcuo Jie. In Tibetan, Jie means beautiful, and for the two sisters, running on the prairie was the most beautiful thing in their lives.

Like most Tibetan people, she loves to make jokes. "Once a young boy asked me how I could run so fast. I told him I eat a lot of yak meat," Qieyang told the Global Times, "The boy was very disappointed, and asked how much yak meat he had to eat so that he could run as fast as I did."

Early talent

Young Qieyang showed her talent for running when she was a child. At 9 years old, she was already a well-known runner in her hometown. In 2006, when she was 16, she was selected for the Qinghai sports school.

In 2008, her fate changed when Qinghai provincial team coach Yuan Dejiu came to the gym to select athletes.

Originally, Yuan intended to select another student, but in order to make that student feel at ease, he also asked Qieyang Shijie to accompany them for a run.

 Once they started running, Yuan was instantly struck by Qieyang's stability, confidence and coordination. He ended up picking Qieyang instead.

Apart from endurance, Yuan has discovered another unique quality in Qieyang. "Qieyang has a very calm mind during formal games. Like many nomads, they play the games, compete and enjoy themselves. They never play for name or fame. That is the reason why I am scouting in Tibetan areas," Yuan said.

Yuan is a tough coach. He understands the psychology of nomads, and knows that they are steadfast and stubborn, and has come up with a way to use this stubbornness.

He told Qieyang that if she ran 25 kilometers every day and when she completed 40,000 kilometers, she could become a champion at the Olympic Games. And Qieyang believed in it. She decided to run 40,000 kilometers. 

Since then, she started to run around Qinghai Lake.

Little 'mastiff'

That was until one day in 2010, when she was selected for the national speed walking team by national coach Zhang Fuxin, another coach who changed her life.

As a national team athlete, she has to get training and compete in events around the country. Because of her poor command of Putonghua, she was reluctant in communicating with her Han teammates at first. But after getting along better with them and improving her spoken ability, she became outspoken and humorous. Her endurance in training and sincerity in treating her friends earned her the nickname "Little mastiff."

"During training, Tibetan athletes' humor and determination motivates everybody. They will run out of the plateau and to the world,"  Zhang said.

After Qieyang had completed running over 40,000 kilometers, her reward was due, and that day arrived on August 11, 2012.

On that day, watched by her parents and hundreds and thousands of spectators in London, she won the bronze medal in the Women's 20 km speed walking event at the 2012 Olympics Games,with a time of 1 hour 25 minutes and 16 seconds. She was China's first Tibetan to win a medal in the Olympics.

Energy from the grassland 

The Olympic medal was just a start for Qieyang. 

Her story has encouraged more Tibetan youths to get into sports. She spends time helping poor nomads. She supports the environmental protection volunteer patrol team of Qinghai Lake. She has criticized the local government for failing to provide funds to cure a young man with a rare disease. She promotes the learning of the Tibetan language, showcases artworks by nomad families.

"In the mountains, on the grassland, there is always endless energy. It gives me the courage to face difficulties, and I want to share that with other people on the plateau. Nature gives us everything, we need to pay it back with our own human nature," Qieyang said.

Newspaper headline: Olympic Odyssey

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