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Xuan China’s Most Successful Gymnast

September 26, 2000 GMT

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) _ The cold medicine that downed Romanian gymnast Andreea Raducan made history for China’s Liu Xuan: she became the first Chinese woman ever to win three gymnastic medals at the Olympics.

Liu was awarded the all-around bronze _ the first all-around medal ever won by a Chinese woman _ after Raducan was stripped of her gold Tuesday for testing positive for a banned stimulant contained in two cold medicine pills she took to fight the flu.

For Liu, it was a bitter-sweet end to a career that had carried two people’s dreams: her own and those of her mother who was forced to give up gymnastics during the chaos of China’s 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution.

``I feel very sorry for her,″ Liu said of Raducan. ``I’m very happy for myself _ a very surprised sort of happy _ but I think that the all-around champion really is very good. I feel sorry for her and sad that this problem occured.″

Liu, who originally had placed fourth in the all-around competition, said Raducan was the better gymnast and she appeared to accept that the Romanian had taken pseudoephedrine inadvertently.

The drug was contained in Nurofen, a common over-the-counter medicine, given to 16-year-old Raducan by her team doctor. Held responsible, he was expelled from the games and suspended through the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake and the 2004 Summer Games in Athens.

``I just couldn’t make sense of it,″ Liu said of Raducan’s positive test. ``I thought this was impossible because in gymnastics we rely on technique to complete our moves. It’s not possible to rely on drugs or strength to complete them, you have to rely entirely on skill.″

Liu already had a bronze medal from the team competition _ only the second time China’s women have won a team medal. The first, also a bronze, was at the boycotted Los Angeles Games of 1984, when communist China made its summer Olympic debut.

She also won the beam title Monday, the first Chinese woman to so so. She shared the victory with her mother, saying: ``It’s possible that I realized her dream.″

Liu said she had hoped to bring her mother to Sydney but she wasn’t able to get a visa.

Liu’s three medals put her ahead of Ma Yanhong and Lu Li as China’s most successful Olympic female gymnasts. Ma won team bronze and gold on the uneven bars at Los Angeles, while Lu took gold on the bars and silver on the beam in Barcelona in 1992.

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Liu, 21, almost retired after the Atlanta Olympics, having failed to win a medal. But she stayed on, providing stability and experience to her teenage teammates at Sydney, helping them to an unprecedented five women’s medals.

Like many other Chinese gymnasts, Liu was just a kid when she was picked by a coach to do gymnastics at a sports institute in her hometown of Changsha, in the southern Chinese province of Hunan. She boarded and was allowed home just once a week. Since she transferred to the national team in Beijing at age 13, she has gotten to see her parents once a year or less.

Liu said Sydney would likely be her last competition and that she wants to go to college. While she has not decided what to study, she said she was interested in news media. As with other Chinese gymnasts, Liu’s academic aspirations had to take second place to training, until now.

``Intellectually, I feel that I’m missing a lot,″ she said. ``We know a lot about gymnastics but I won’t do gymnastics for the rest of my life.″

With her three medals, Liu should be able to live comfortably. The government has promised gold medalists at least 80,000 yuan (dlrs 9,600) _ ten times the average annual earnings of many Chinese _ and 30,000 yuan (dlrs 3,600) for each bronze.

Local authorities often also build a free home, called ``champions houses,″ for winners at the Olympics or China’s four-yearly National Games, said gymnastics coach Chen Xiong.