Meng Guanliang, China's first Olympic canoeing champion is not only a star athlete, but a hero too. During an interview with China Sports Daily, he let it slip that he saved a drowning man.
Meng Guanliang (L) and Yang Wenjun compete to success during the final game of men's C2 500m canoeing at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games in this file photo. [Xinhua]
"I am wondering how the two guys are now after being in the water so long," Meng said at a dining table with four of his teammates and the journalist, picking at the long scar on his left arm.
Asked what had happened to the "two guys", the 30-year-old strong swimmer and canoeist said this happened several days ago in late May.
The national canoeing team was training at their base in Dalian of Northeast China when the canoeists saw a hand frantically waving in the water not far from them.
"Someone is drowning! Let's help!" cried Gong Yongjun, Meng's partner, and he jumped into the water without taking off his clothes and shoes. Meng waved to his other teammates to come closer to the drowning men. Then Meng joined Gong in the water.
The water was very cold and Meng struggled to save the drowning men. As he pushed one of them up from the water to his teammates on their boat, the unconscious man accidentally left a long scratch on Meng's left arm. Then Gong brought the other man to the shore.
When the two men were brought back and given medical attention, even Meng's coaches didn't know what had happened.
"We just wanted to save them," said the Olympic champion. "Now that I have my own child, I have deeper appreciation for human life. One of men was only 20 years-old and we just couldn't watch such a young life pass away."
Canoeing, once an unrecognized sport in China, got thrust into the spotlight after Meng and former partner Yang Wenjun made a historic breakthrough to win the country's first Olympic gold in the men's C2 500m in Athens three years ago.