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Chinese sports hero en garde for Canada in Beijing

<p>At about 10:30 a.m. yesterday, <strong>Jujie Luan</strong> received a clean bill of health from her doctor in Edmonton.<br /></p>


At about 10:30 a.m. yesterday, Jujie Luan received a clean bill of health from her doctor in Edmonton.

What does this have to do with the price of tea in China?

Well, nothing, but it certainly will increase the price of Olympic tickets in China.

Luan, see, is a Chinese legend. She won a gold medal for China in fencing in 1984. She is officially listed as one of China’s top 50 sports stars. Her image has adorned Chinese postage stamps. A movie chronicled her life. There were several Chinese best-selling books on her. Chinese youngsters still study her feats in textbooks. She is as recognizable in China as, say, Wayne Gretzky in Canada.

You get the picture.

Now, Luan is hoping to become a two-country legend. At the ripe young age of 50, and after retirement stints of 12 and eight years, Luan qualified recently to represent Canada at this summer’s Olympics in China, although she wasn’t certain she’d be able to compete until her doctor’s appointment yesterday.

“I’ve been very tired lately,” she told me via cell as she left the doctor’s office. “I needed blood tests. It’s my thyroid, but it’s okay and I’m going to Beijing.”

She’ll be a scalper’s delight there. She’ll draw capacity crowds. She may be the most compelling story at the Games.

Her return is “already all over the Chinese newspapers,” said Luan’s husband, Dajin Gu. “I don’t think it’s common knowledge in Canada but it’s major, major news there.”

Jujie insisted she isn’t nervous. “I’m fine mentally,” she said. “I’ve been through a lot.”

True. She joined China’s national fencing team at 16 and became the world’s best despite a serious kidney ailment. In 1983, she grew fond of Edmonton while at the World University Games and moved to the city six years later to study English at the University of Alberta. She became a Canadian citizen and was inducted into Edmonton’s Hall of Fame this week.

“We would have returned to China but our oldest child was born here with Down syndrome and we knew we couldn’t get affordable health care there,” Gu explained, “so we stayed.

“Canada’s great. I do nothing. Jujie teaches and coaches (fencing in Edmonton). Our children (Jessica, 16, Jerrica, 14, and Daniel, 10) are happy.”

They’d be happier, of course, if mom wins another medal, but Gu has cautioned them.

“She has no chance,” he said. “Fencing is a young people’s sport. Jujie has great technique and she dreams of another medal, but reality is reality.”

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