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Tan overcomes serious knee injuries to be wushu world champion

Tan Xiang Tian receiving his medal after winning gold in the Xingyuquan at the 13th World Wushu Championships in Jarkarta.
Tan Xiang Tian receiving his medal after winning gold in the Xingyuquan at the 13th World Wushu Championships in Jarkarta. PHOTO: TAN XIANG TIAN

SEA Games wushu gold medallist fights off pain to kick his way to become world champ

He may have won the SEA Games wushu gold medal this year but Tan Xiang Tian has added another title to his name - world champion.

Last week, the Singaporean finished first in xingyiquan at the 13th World Wushu Championships in Jakarta, surprising himself in more ways than one.

Speaking to The Straits Times of his triumph, the 23-year-old repeatedly stressed that his win was "lucky". Said the James Cook University psychology student: "I realised I was lucky the moment I knew who my competitors were because they were mainly from 'ang moh' (Western) countries, and it is the Asian countries that are the stronger ones, as wushu is mainly an Asian sport.

BODY BATTLES MIND

I have a phobia of injuring it (his knee) again so I tend to be too careful when I jump, and I do not dare to try out the higher difficulty jumps.

TAN XIANG TIAN , on taking up xingyiquan, an aggressive form of wushu

"I am happy that I got the results but I don't see it as something very big."

But before his flying kicks took him to the top of the podium, Tan had to contend with the problem of two major injury blows. Wear and tear resulted in his left anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) snapping in 2011 and a year later, his right knee suffered the same fate when he ruptured a similar ligament during competition.

Even with a torn ACL on both knees, Tan continued training and returned to training a mere three months after surgery.

On his return, not only did he train hard by clocking 21/2 hours of training six times a week, he switched to an even more intense form of wushu.

His coach Yang Ning also praised the new world champion, saying: "He has a very good attitude and is a hard worker.

"I am extremely satisfied with his performance and I think he performed very well."

Previously a specialist in nanquan, featuring fewer jumps and shorter hand movements and punches, Tan converted to xingyiquan, an aggressive form of wushu, with the need to be faster and more explosive with punches.

"It was not easy coming back, it was very hard," he said. "I couldn't do a lot of movements and I have a metal screw in my knee which caused me a lot of pain.

"I have a phobia of injuring it again so I tend to be too careful when I jump, and I do not dare to try out the higher difficulty jumps."

He added: "I am still afraid but I am trying to get past that."

Moving on from what coach Yang said was a breakthrough year for Tan, he now has his sights set on the 2016 Asia Wushu Championships held in Taiwan and is gunning to represent Singapore again at the next SEA Games in 2017 in Malaysia.

With xingyiquan still a new discipline and uncertainty surrounding its inclusion in future competitions, Tan will focus on nanquan and duilian, where he won a SEA Games gold in June.

His main aim, however, is to make it to the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia, but he stopped short of making any medal predictions.

"I know my limitations and sometimes the results are not a good reflection of your ability and standard," he conceded. "I'm still going to do what I have been doing and I will work even harder because I have now seen the standard and I know where I stand."

But Yang firmly believes his charge has what it takes to punch his way to more success.

The coach said: "If Xiang Tian manages to stay healthy and injury-free, he will have a very bright future in wushu, and I hope to see him stand on the highest podium."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 23, 2015, with the headline 'Tan on top of the world after switch'. Print Edition | Subscribe