Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Forgotten Olympian

She would be the first star to shine from China’s athletic galaxy, more graceful than the nimble gymnast Nastia Liukin, more beautiful than the elegant swimmer Luo Xuejuan. Yet we never heard her name. She would be the only solo dancer featured in the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympics. Already worshiped by her native country China, now the world would see her, admire her, adore her, praise her.

This would be her moment.

Almost from the time she was born her parents detected her natural grace–her delicate ivory hands and fingers floated like feathers in Beijing’s blue sky; her exquisite feet learned their first steps with effortless poise. She never walked or ran–she danced, like a leaping gazelle, a darting swallow, an elegant swan–she danced.

Her rigorous training began in early childhood. Day after day, she spent infinite hours in the grueling discipline of ballet. Swiftly beyond her peers, she excelled in every precise pirouette, simple to complex adagios, bright and brisk allegros, the difficult arabesque, the leaping ballone–she mastered the repertoire. She was ballet.

The People’s Republic of China took notice. She would be their Anna Pavovla, the epitome of Chinese grace, the choreography of a great nation’s collective genius. Beijing’s magnificent stadium, the Bird’s Nest, would be the stage from which she would spread her wings, and the whole world would watch with wonder at her flight.

Brilliant engineers built the platform especially for her, a technological wonder designed to embellish her genius skill and Chinese pride.

On the evening of July 26, 2008, thirteen days before she would be the centerpiece of the Opening Ceremony, she practiced her movements. Her coaches and parents watched her admiringly as she flawlessly performed. Her fellow dancers circled her like bees around a lotus flower. Then the moment came, the moment when she would emerge from the troupe and leap through the air to that special platform built to showcase her matchless talent to the world.

She leapt!

The platform gave way.

She fell!

Twelve feet down into a shaft, she landed on her neck and back.

Fifty minutes passed before the medical team arrived. They rushed her to a Beijing hospital.

"I cannot feel my legs," she said with desperate fear. "I can move my arms and hands, but I cannot move my legs."

The doctor told her parents, "She will never walk again."

Her parents told the doctor, "She will never dance again."

The hospital light danced in the tears that fell, that fell from her beautiful, sorrowful eyes.

Pray for Liu Yan.

To see the forgotten Olympian dance as she will never dance again, follow this link:


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