04 AUG 2012 General News London, UK

Chen Ding - academia's loss is Race Walking's gain

Chen Ding of China celebrates as he wins gold in the 20km Race Walk at the London 2012 Olympics (Getty Images)Chen Ding of China celebrates as he wins gold in the 20km Race Walk at the London 2012 Olympics (Getty Images) © Copyright
The new Olympic 20k Race Walk gold medallist is thanking his lucky stars he was no good at school.

For some, a school report that says 'could do better’ is a bit of a disaster, for Chen Ding it has turned into gold.

In fact, it could hardy get better for a man who turns 20 on Sunday. Double celebrations do not get any better than this. And with respect to anyone who has got the new champion a birthday gift – they will not be able to top the medal around his neck.

Chen admitted after his tremendous win in The Mall that he happened upon walking by sheer chance rather than design – and it had a lot to do with flunking a heap of academic subjects.

It appears that in China if you are not so hot with the books they give you blocks if you’re a sprinter or a pair of decent racing flats if you show endurance ability.

Chen showed he had the latter – and like so many walkers before him tried distance running before he turned to heel and toe.

His hand gesture when asked how good he was at 5k and 10k suggested he was so-so. But he heard about race walking and had seen other Chinese do well at it.

It wasn’t quite hey presto after he took up the sport when he was 15. But the youngster soon discovered he was a lot better at walking than anything he tried before.

Even then, he had a hankering to do something else – in this case, playing the guitar, and reckons that every spare chance he gets, out comes the acoustic and away he strums.

Is he any good?

Not bad, was more or less the answer – and a lot better than when he was chewing the end of his school pen nailed to a desk.

However, he was equally candid about what he thought of his chances of an Olympic medal against two illustrious compatriots – one of whom, Wang Zhen, is the world junior record holder over 10k.

"I honestly didn’t think I was going to win today," Chen said. "But things got better as the race progressed.

"I felt particularly good with two laps (4k) to go, and it felt as if the others were going back a little."

Chen thought Valeriy Borchin was right behind, but was unaware the defending champion had collapsed exhausted into a hoarding when the pace revved up right at the end.

However, the Chinese was too preoccupied raising his fist and celebrating when he still had 3k left.

Over the last kilometre he was practically holding audience with fans on the course as he breezed home.

This year has been something of a revelation for Chen. His previous times though fast were not as fast as some in a country that demands excellence.

However, a sparkling 1:17:40 at the IAAF Race Walk Challenge in Taicang in March knocked more than a minute off his previous best.

He was coached for a short time by Italian legend Sandro Damilano, but is now looked after by 1984 Olympian Zhang Fuxin who he thanked for getting him to the start line in London in the best shape possible.

"This is the best birthday yet, and it won’t get better," said Chen.

"I was not much good at school, and I used to get told off by my parents and teachers. But they will now be delighted of course, and I can’t wait to celebrate with them.

"What will I do on my birthday? I have no idea, but I will try to think of something good."

Paul Warburton for the IAAF