Top Taiwan Athletes Prepare for the Games


2017 / August

Liu Yingfeng /photos courtesy of Chuang Kung-ju /tr. by Scott Williams

Track, basketball, diving…. These and 19 other sports will be on show over the 12 days of the 2017 Tai­pei Universiade. Athletes including weightlifters Hsu Shu-ching­, Kuo ­Hsing-chun, and Chen Shih-chieh­, as well as badminton ace Tai Tzu-ying (currently ranked first in the world in women’s singles), plus many other young people representing Taiwan for the first time, will try to take advantage of the rare opportunity presented by Taiwan’s hosting the Universiade, bringing into play the “home-field advantage” as they display the elite skills they have honed over many years of hard training.



It is six years since Hsu Shu-ching­ last competed in the Universiade. Attending for the second time this year, Hsu’s attitude and mood are very different. After winning gold medals at the 2012 London Olympics and the 2016 Rio Olympics, Hsu originally planned on taking time out from competitions this year. But because of this rare opportunity of Taiwan’s hosting an international sporting event, Hsu—who has already brought home honors not only from the Olympics but also from other first-class international tournaments including the the Asian Games and the World Weightlifting Championships—has decided once again to appear on behalf of her country.

Ready to rock

Although this is an international competition, Hsu, looking out over the familiar equipment at the venue, is not in the least nervous, and in fact when she speaks she appears as relaxed and smiling as if this were a domestic event. As the countdown to the Universiade rapidly proceeds, Hsu—described by her coach Tsai ­Wenyi as extremely strong psychologically—acts no differently than in the past, following her own rhythm and facing the competition as if it were just another day.

Seen by others as one of the top hopefuls for a gold medal, Hsu is laid back about winning one. “If you are constantly fixated on wanting to win a gold, in fact you won’t be able to. It’s better to not take it so seriously, and just advance slowly but surely, one step at a time,” she says.

Another outstanding female weightlifter, Kuo Hsing­-chun, who won a bronze medal at Rio, is coming back prepared to do even better at the Universiade.

To get her back into the rhythm of competing, last year her coach, Lin Jing­neng, made a special point of taking Kuo to the World University Weightlifting Championships in Mexico. Following that outing, at the Asian Weightlifting Championships held in Turkmenistan this past April, Kuo lifted a total of 241 kilo­grams (104 in the snatch and 137 in the clean and jerk) to break the Olympic gold medal record.

Kuo’s sporting career has not been without its share of setbacks and disappointments—such as in 2014, when she suffered an injury to her right thigh while preparing for the Incheon Asian Games when things went amiss on a 140-kilo lift. But Kuo, for whom talk about winning and losing at competitions is just part of her daily routine, now has a more mature mindset, and knows how to cope. Enthusiastic and sunny by nature, she hopes to build upon her brilliant performance at the 2013 Universiade, when she broke three records on her way to a gold medal, and she has high hopes of winning a gold for the home team.

Badminton “empress” Tai Tzu-ying, who passed up this year’s World Badminton Championships to compete for Taiwan, is also getting into her best frame of mind for the Universiade. This year is her third time representing Taiwan at these games, and although she is ranked #1 in the world, she does not take the competition lightly. “There is nothing absolute about any competition.” Whether or not she can win depends on her own and her opponents’ condition and performance at the time of their contests.

Tai, who currently studies at the University of Tai­pei, has been known since being introduced to badminton in third grade for her killer smash shot that is her top weapon in subduing opponents. After winning the Hong Kong Open in 2016, she found herself with enough ranking points to be named the world number­-one women’s singles player, becoming the first ever “empress of the world” in Taiwan’s badminton history.

Jump! Taiwanese men’s teams

Ma­sao Ha­mada, the Japanese head coach of the Taiwan men’s gymnastics team, says that while the team did not win any medals at the last Universiade in ­Gwangju, South Korea, there is an excellent chance they will come away with medals this time.

Tang Chia-hung, who currently studies at National Taiwan Normal University, is most skilled at the high bar and floor exercises.

Tang, who has been inclined to be hyperactive since childhood, first took up gymnastics at the suggestion of a doctor, and he enrolled as a student of gymnast Lin Yu-hsin, whose real-life story inspired the film Jump Ashin! Tang believes that compared to other competitors, his movements are especially crisp and clean, and he feels especially good when flying through the air.

In his decade-plus-long career in gymnastics, Tang has already accomplished great things, including taking the title at the National Intercollegiate Athletic Games, and winning the gold medal for floor exercises at the 2017 FIG Artistic Individual Apparatus World Cup.

With his first appearance in the Universiade just coming up, Tang says that compared to competing abroad, where one has to get accustomed to the venue, this year in what will be his first international competition in his home country he hopes to deliver his finest performance.

Martial arts to make Universiade debut

Wushu, or Chinese martial arts, which includes the  major categories of taolu (routines) and sanda (free fighting), will this year be included among the competitive events in the Universiade for the first time, giving audiences something to really look forward to.

Tsai Ze­min, who currently studies at National Taiwan Sport University, is most skilled in the martial art of chang­quan (“long fist” or “long boxing”). In the space of less than a minute and a half, we see the precise movements of Tsai’s fists and feet vigorously demonstrating the forms of chang­quan. Tsai, who only started formal training in chang­quan in middle school, is one of the top three in the country at his event. He explains that chang­quan places the most importance on a clear distinction between action and inaction.

Meanwhile Chen You­wei, currently a fourth-year student at the University of Tai­pei, has a father who was a coach of traditional tai chi sword, and, surrounded by this environment as a child, he learned tai chi sword. Unlike traditional tai chi sword, Chen has added a number of high-difficulty movements to his routine, and has inserted leaps and other motions that call for great lower-limb balance. As a representative of the host country, Chen has set out to change the soft and beautiful musical style that had previously accompanied tai chi sword routines, and made a point of selecting powerful and imposing music from Hua Mu­lan for accompaniment. “This time it is Taiwan that is holding this international sporting event, so as a host, I definitely have to draw out all my capability and give a powerful performance,” says Chen.

Participating this time in the ­sanda 52-kilo weight class at the Universiade, Chen Wei­ting is a student at National Taiwan Sport University. She changed direction only two years ago, following in the footsteps of an older female classmate to shift away from her nine years of training in boxing to ­sanda training. Although boxing and ­sanda are both competitive disciplines, and the foundational movements are similar, Chen still has had to invest a great deal of time in ­adjusting.

In particular, boxing mainly focuses on upper limb movements and balanced postures, and you have to observe subtle movements of your opponent’s shoulders to decide when to strike, whereas ­sanda brings together kicking, striking, and throwdowns, so the training level and complexity of the actual fighting are higher.

Fencing: Fancy footwork and a battle of wits

Cute and dimpled, with big eyes, the fencer ­Cheng Hsin has represented Taiwan in several international events. Currently a third-year student in the Department of Physical Education at Fu Jen Catholic University, she only got involved in fencing five or so years ago. ­Cheng was originally a figure skater, but when she was in the phys ed class at Tai­pei Municipal Yu­cheng Senior High School, she followed the advice of an older schoolmate and switched over to the foil, one of the three categories of weapons used in fencing.

With her limited experience, ­Cheng Hsin encountered many superior fencers and often in a 15-minute competition would get only one or two points. But this huge gap with her competitors did not reduce her determination. “The real opponent is myself, and even though my abilities were still far removed from those of my opponents, if I could get even one or two points more than in my previous match, that was progress.” With help from her teammates, ­Cheng rapidly upgraded her own fencing skills. In her career of only five-plus years, she has already won her event in the National Intercollegiate Athletic Games three straight years and taken a bronze medal in the Asian Under-23 Fencing Championships.

With the approach of the Universiade, ­Cheng hopes that more members of the public will come to understand her event, which she finds enthralling.

The quick forward and backward footwork, attacking and defending with sword in hand in a battle of wits with her opponent, and scoring points in the blink of an eye… these are the reasons why ­Cheng finds fencing so fascinating. Asian fencers tend to lack experience compared to their Western counterparts, and also often face a height disadvantage. But each time ­Cheng sees an opponent make a move in the way that she had anticipated and she is able to gain a point, in that instant she feels filled with an incomparable sense of accomplishment.

In contrast to ­Cheng, who is making her first appearance at the Universiade, Hsu Jo-ting, who is currently in the MA program at National Taiwan Sport University, has already represented Taiwan at the Universiade four times. Hsu also represented Taiwan in the 2012 Olympics, and made it into the round of 32, making her the first ever woman fencer from Taiwan to fight her way into the Olympics. Making her return to the Universiade, Hsu this time comes with an additional identity: new mom. Busy on the one hand with preparations for the competition and on the other with a baby of just over a year old, Hsu admits that sometimes she is so exhausted when she comes back from practice that she can’t even play with her daughter. Although this life of burning the candle at both ends is very tiring, Hsu’s mindset is much more relaxed, and she has rid herself of the “must win” pressure, so she can enjoy the competition much more.      

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