How two rural girls become Asian Games rowing champions

Xinhua, September 25, 2023
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Hangzhou native Zou's Asiad rowing dream can be traced back to the bank of Fuchun River, and after being crowned at Asiad with her partner Qiu, the duo now has an ambitious 2024 plan.

Zou and her partner Qiu Xiuping secured the first gold medal of the Hangzhou Asiad on Sunday morning, leading in the women's lightweight double sculls.

"I grew up drinking the water from Fuchun River here. It makes me so excited to win the competition here," Zou said.

Zou, born in Tonglu County of Hangzhou, spent her early years by the Fuchun River. Her athletic prowess was identified during a football training class in fourth grade.

"Rowing tests speed, endurance, and explosive power. Zou excelled in all these areas," Sun Haihua, Zou's primary school teacher, said, explaining why they suggested she try rowing over football.

While Zou was eager to join the city's team, her parents were initially hesitant about letting their 10-year-old daughter leave home for training.

Zou persisted, even as her hands developed calluses and scars. "The scars are not only testimonies of hard training, but also symbols of my honors in these years," Zou remarked.

Zou Jiaqi (L) and Qiu Xiuping of China pose during the awarding ceremony for the Women's Lightweight Double Sculls of rowing at the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou, east China's Zhejiang Province, Sept. 24, 2023. Zou Jiaqi and Qiu Xiuping claimed the first gold medal of the 19th Asian Games. (Xinhua/Jiang Han)

In 2018, she joined the Zhejiang provincial rowing team and secured second place in a national competition. Three years later, she was on the national team, partnering with Qiu.

Qiu, two years Zou's senior, comes from a rural family in Guangdong. After her 2014 induction into the provincial team, she dedicated nearly a decade to earn this Asiad gold.

"I train seven hours every day," Qiu shared. "It's no plain sailing to come this far."

Despite their differing personalities, the pair have a strong bond off the field. Qiu considers Zou a confidant and even penned a short poem for her: "May there be light in the dark, umbrella in the rain, and the people who love us on this long journey."

Their collaboration yielded results, with a sixth-place finish at the 2023 World Championships.

"Today's victory is the cumulative result of every contest and every training session in the past years, and the only thing I can do was to do our best with every stroke," Qiu reflected.

With 2024 in sight, Qiu's ambitions soar even higher.

"We have already qualified for the Paris 2024, and it is the time to stand on the top podium there," she told reporters.

But for Zou, a fulfilling meal is top of mind.

"Qiu has promised that she would take me to try Cantonese Yum Cha after winning, and I suppose it is time now. Besides, I also would like to take her to my home and try the fish cooked by my mom, which, I think, is the most tasty food in the whole world," she said.

Beyond their achievements, the duo shares a mutual dream.

"We would like to see more people interested in this sport and get involved," Zou expressed. "To achieve this goal, we will make even greater efforts to be inspiring."