Liu Yutong may come across as a quiet, introverted teenager off the court. But when the Chinese rising star puts on her badminton gear, she transforms into a ferocious fighter, harnessing her competitive spirit and unleashing her passionate side.
“I am still very young so I do not have any special feelings for being considered one of the world’s best. I need to remain humble and keep working hard,” said Liu.
Despite her youth, the 17-year-old has made a name for herself already in the badminton international scene.
Her remarkable talent was seen in 2017 when she captured her first World Championships title in the women’s singles WH2. “I was too young back then and had no idea about who my opponents were. Maybe that even helped me remain fearless.”
In 2018, she won two golds at the Asian Para Games in Jakarta, Indonesia – the women’s singles WH2 and the mixed doubles WH1-2 with Qu Zimo.
A year later, Liu again captured double gold by winning both the singles and doubles events at the World Championships in Basel, Switzerland, and rising to the top of the world rankings.
© Dong Jiong
She is the woman-to-beat heading into the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, where she will face tough opposition from home favourite Yuma Yamazaki.
“Yuma has fantastic skills,” said Liu. “Amnouy Wetwithan of Thailand is another rival I should be careful of. My teammate Xu Tingting is also very strong.
“Every athlete's dream is to win Paralympic gold, that is my goal; but I cannot take it for granted just because I have won world titles.”
Liu has a top-of-the-line coach in 1996 Olympics badminton silver medallist Dong Jiong, who has been training Para badminton players such as Liu for many years.
“I met Liu Yutong for the first time in 2015 or 2016 when she was 12 years old and had just won the Asian title,” he recalled.
“I can teach her how to cope with the changes during a match based on the experiences I accumulated throughout my career. Apart from guiding her, I also try to support her psychologically.”
© Dong Jiong
Liu lost her legs in a car accident at 4 years old. She took up Para table tennis before another coach invited her to try Para badminton. She has not looked back ever since.
During her time off the court, Liu enjoys painting.
“I always paint apart from training. I just simply had such an urge for painting when I was very young, I could feel that inner calm as soon as I picked up my pencil. I do have some talents on painting since no one taught me how to do it.
“My previous school did not have facilities for wheelchair access, but it also did not have an art department. Now I go to a special school where I can also learn drawing and painting.”