China’s Gong pips American world champion Jackson to Diamond League shot put gold

China’s shot putter Gong Lijiao has won three Olympic medals and eight titles at the World Athletics Championships. /CFP

China’s shot putter Gong Lijiao has won three Olympic medals and eight titles at the World Athletics Championships. /CFP

The world’s finest athletes are relentless in their uncompromising demands on themselves, and Gong Lijiao fits the bill perfectly.

In the opening leg of the 2024 Diamond League in Xiamen, the 35-year-old Chinese veteran defied the skeptics and emerged victorious in the women’s shot put, outclassing reigning world champion Chase Jackson and a host of other formidable contenders. Despite achieving her personal best for the season, Gong didn’t exhibit much jubilation afterward. Instead, she candidly confessed her dissatisfaction with her own performance.

“Due to the rain, my warm-up activities were not as thorough as I would have liked,” reflected Gong. “Being in competition with so many elite athletes, it’s only natural that I aimed for the title. However, I’m not entirely content with my performance, and I hope to break the 20-meter mark as soon as possible.”

China’s Gong Lijiao in action during the women’s shot put final at the Diamond League in Xiamen, China, April 20, 2024. /CFP

China’s Gong Lijiao in action during the women’s shot put final at the Diamond League in Xiamen, China, April 20, 2024. /CFP

For Gong, this victory was truly hard-earned. Despite being a three-time Olympic medalist and holding a remarkable record of eight medals at the World Athletics Championships, she finds herself in the twilight of her career. However, the spotlight was on last year’s shot put record-breaker, Jackson. The 29-year-old American star, who became the first world champion in women’s shot put for her country in 2022, had high hopes of clinching a third consecutive series title this year.

But it was Gong who stole the show when she returned to the Diamond League after a five-year absence. She unleashed an impressive throw of 19.72 meters on her second attempt, securing the top spot. She followed it up with a solid throw of 19.61 meters to seal her victory. Jackson, who was in close pursuit, could only manage a distance of 19.62 meters, placing her in third. Surprisingly, it was New Zealand’s Maddison-Lee Wesche who emerged as a strong contender, achieving a throw of 19.63 meters on her final attempt and securing second place.

After clinching the Olympic gold medal in Tokyo, Gong faced a chorus of advice urging her to retire while at the pinnacle of her career. However, she made a bold decision to carry the flag for China one last time at her fifth Olympics in Paris. 

(L-R) New Zealand’s Maddison-Lee Wesche, China’s Gong Lijiao and American Chase Jackson during the medal ceremony for the women’s shot put at the Diamond League in Xiamen, China, April 20, 2024. /CFP

(L-R) New Zealand’s Maddison-Lee Wesche, China’s Gong Lijiao and American Chase Jackson during the medal ceremony for the women’s shot put at the Diamond League in Xiamen, China, April 20, 2024. /CFP

“The competition was tough, with strong opponents all around. Winning this event will undoubtedly boost my confidence,” observed Gong. “I have been pushing myself harder than ever before, and my goal is to ensure that Chinese women’s shot put maintains a prominent position in major international competitions.”  

“That’s why I have stayed determined and persevered. No matter the obstacles I face, I constantly remind myself of the mission I carry, which serves as my driving force to pursue my dreams,” she added. “As long as I manage my injuries well leading up to the Paris Olympics, I firmly believe that my goals are well within reach.”

With a burning desire to end her career on a high note, Gong is determined to leave a lasting legacy on the grandest stage of them all.