‘It’s never too late’
A skateboarding national champion’s path to restart
Published: Sep 15, 2022 05:29 PM
Gao Qunxiang competes during the skateboarding men's street final at China's 14th National Games in Xi'an, Northwest China's Shaanxi Province on September 11, 2021. Photo: VCG

Gao Qunxiang competes during the skateboarding men's street final at China's 14th National Games in Xi'an, Northwest China's Shaanxi Province on September 11, 2021. Photo: VCG

It was when he was lying in the medical room of a hospital that Gao Qunxiang, an iconic Chinese skateboarder, learned he grabbed a gold medal at China's 14th National Games in 2021.

During the skateboarding street group final of the National Games held in Xi'an, Northwest China's Shaanxi Province, the main host city of the event, Gao, who was ranked temporarily first after two rounds of run and three rounds of single trick, fell heavily as he was doing his fourth single trick.

He found himself unable to stand up, and then came the medical unit and volunteers with stretchers.

"It was all finished," he recalled what happened that day. 

"I had prepared for the National Games for three years, but it was all in vain."

Fortunately, his total scores in the two rounds of run and two best results of a single trick secured him a gold medal.

It was the first time that skateboarding was included as a competitive event in China's National Games. But Gao's athletic career as a professional skateboarder almost ended that day.

"The MRI after the game showed that my right ACL was torn, along with meniscus and calf bone damages," he said.

For Shaanxi kids, including Gao, skateboarding is not a popular sport for his generation, but Gao started the sport when he was only 5. Practicing his skills on uneven paths, Gao has been suffering from injuries since a long time ago.

"It was a broken bone here and a torn muscle there," said Gao Yong, Gao Qunxiang's father, adding that he encouraged Gao to practice skateboarding as the child loves speed very much.

"I wanted him to learn how to control speed," Gao Yong said.

In the 2000s, there were very few grounds for skateboarding in Xi'an. Gao Yong tried every means to coach Gao Qunxiang and his cousin Sun Kunkun and took them to participate in activities and competitions around the country.

In 2012, Gao Qunxiang won a junior national championship in Shanghai and became a rising star in the skateboarding community. 

His first senior national championship came in 2017 as he dominated the national-leading G-Shock Skateboarding Championships with amazing performance, and in 2018, he defended the title.

What made him an undeniable signature figure in Chinese skateboarding was that Gao represented China at the 2018 Asian Games. Gao and Sun entered the finals of street and park events respectively, which were so far the best results for Chinese male skateboarders in international multi-sport events.

"Both of us were too cautious at that time, and many skillful moves were not performed in the competitions," said Sun, who was 5 years older than Gao.

"We thought we had more opportunities," he said. "But sometimes you are given only one chance to shine."

While the dream of racing for medals in international events for China came to an end, another dream was ready to start.

After the ups and downs at the National Games, Gao told his parents and cousin about his plan to launch a skatepark in Xi'an.

"I've always been dreaming of operating such a park of my own," he said.

As Gao said, if he could train in a more professional venue and receive a more detailed guide, he would have achieved a much higher level than now.

"I appreciate the support from my fans across the country, especially when I was in the hospital," he said. 

With the money he earned from past competitions, he rented a factory workshop in the city's suburbs. He hired a design team from Shanghai and transformed it into a skateboarding "paradise."

Professional and stylish, the park is supposed to attract and groom more talents.

However, the opening date of the park was delayed to August from early July because Gao has been demanding. It made Gao and his team nearly miss the summer vacation, the prime time for youngsters' sports consumption.

An optimistic person he's always been through years of training and competitions, Gao believes the situation will get better. His father, who also carried out a sports training camp in Xi'an, usually came to the park and gave him instructions.

"He is an impatient person. It isn't a bad thing for him to learn that reward takes time," his father said.

Speaking of the possible halt of his sports career, Gao seems not too disappointed. He is 20 years old after all and has boundless possibilities in the future.

"The most upsetting thing is I cannot do any move in front of such a beautiful skatepark," he said, adding that he thought he had totally recovered in March but soon injured his right leg again.

Recently, he made up his mind to go to Beijing for thoroughly recovering medical treatment. He believed it would make him 80 percent as good as before.

"All joy in my life comes from skateboarding itself. Bagging a gold medal and finishing a great move give me an equal feeling of fulfillment, the same as coaching an outstanding young man," he said.

He deeply believes the operation of the park will be smooth when he returns to Xi'an after the treatment.

"It will be a brand new start," he said. "Just like a famous motto in our community - 'It's never too late to start skateboarding.'"

"That's why I pick START as the name of my skatepark," he concluded the conversation with a boyish smile.