by Dong Yixing, Wang Haoyu and Wang Hengzhi
BEIJING, March 28 (Xinhua) -- With bigger pressure and higher anticipation, starting a new Olympic cycle as the reigning champion is never easy. And Chinese fencer Sun Yiwen surely knows that.
After winning a historic gold in the women's epee individual at the Tokyo Olympic Games and finishing fourth at China's National Games in 2021, Sun didn't compete at all in the 2021-22 season, instead taking time to rest, recover and adjust.
Coming back in the 2022-23 season from the lowest world ranking - 94th - of her senior career, Sun started off her journey to the Paris Olympics with the aim of solving previous problems and looking for future joy.
"I'm still improving and growing, I'm not coming back to say that I'm going to win the gold medal again," Sun told Xinhua in an exclusive interview. "I think I had a lot of problems and deficiencies on my way to the gold medal in Tokyo, and there's still a lot of room for improvement."
"I think if I can do everything more perfectly, I will be in a better state. The result is not the most important for me, but to identify and solve the problems, and look for the joy during the process."
Sun suffered a muscle strain in her left leg and withdrew from the team event in Tokyo, one of the many injuries that altogether took her more than a year to recover from.
"After the Olympic Games, I've always had some kind of injury. So most of the time I have been staying with the national team to receive treatment," Sun had told Xinhua in January.
"I had a problem with my back and tailbone, which compressed the nerves. I haven't jumped since the end of the Olympics. Even a small jump can affect my nerves and cause a lot of pain," she said.
Sun resumed training in October last year and competed in four World Cup tournaments and one Grand Prix in the following months. Despite only a 65th-place finish in her season debut in Tallinn, Estonia just one month into regular training, Sun took bronze in both individual and team events in Barcelona, Spain in February this year.
"I didn't compete or train for more than a year. I was a bit rusty in every aspect. I had to play while trying to recall the sense of fencing," Sun said after the World Cup in Nanjing, China last weekend. "But I think I'm recovering fast and getting it back little by little."
"I didn't think I could win a World Cup medal in such a short time. It has given me huge confidence," added the 30-year-old.
As the fencing qualification period for Paris 2024 starts on April 3, 2023, Sun and her teammates will have a series of domestic and international competitions, including the National Championship, Epee Grand Prix, Epee World Cup, the Asian Championship and the World Championship in the next few months.
"My coach told me not to rush. Fencing requires steady progress without ups and downs both mentally and physically."
"One step at a time," said a calm and confident Sun. "And each event is better than the previous one."