Since 2009, Chinese shot putter Gong Lijiao has amassed a total of five Olympic and World Championships medals. The one thing missing from her impressive collection: the color gold.
Lijiao’s closest call came when she nished second last year at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing. Lijiao’s opening mark of 66 feet, 7 1⁄4 inches (20.30 meters) led through two rounds, but German Christina Schwanitz heaved the shot 66-10 (20.37m) on her third throw to deny Lijiao the gold medal by less than three inches or seven centimeters.
Not surprisingly, those two – Schwanitz and Lijiao – finished 1-2 in the 2015 women’s shot put world rankings by Track & Field News magazine, just ahead of American Michelle Carter.
While U.S. track and eld fans might be learning of Lijiao for the first time, the 27-year-old has been a fixture on the international stage for nearly a decade. She has been a finalist in each of the past five World Championships. In 2007, she finished seventh at the IAAF World Championships in Osaka, Japan, and a year later she improved to fifth at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Lijiao broke through for her first international medal in 2009, when she threw a personal-best 65-3 1⁄4 (19.89m) to win bronze at the IAAF World Championships in Berlin. Later that year, she improved her personal-best mark even further, to 66-9 1⁄4 (20.35m), while winning the National Games of China.
Lijiao has been closing in on an international gold medal ever since.
In 2012, she won bronze at the London Olympics with a put of 66-4 1⁄4 (20.22m); in 2013, she edged Team USA’s Carter by one centimeter at the IAAF World Championships in Moscow for another bronze medal; and in 2015, she improved to the silver-medal position while losing narrowly to Schwanitz in Beijing.
The women’s shot put at the 2016 IAAF Indoor Championships is slated to begin Saturday evening at 5:45 p.m., but Lijiao’s opening-round put won’t be her first throw inside the state of Oregon. Three years ago, she came to Hayward Field for the 2013 Prefontaine Classic, where she finished a close second behind New Zealand’s Valerie Adams.
It won’t be Lijiao’s first championship event under a closed roof. In 2014, she won the bronze medal at the IAAF Indoor Championships in Sopot, Poland — a performance she’ll look to improve on in Portland.