In recent years, China had made a big push to improve its standing in the world of winter sports, and it was at Salt Lake City 2002 that all of its efforts began to pay off. And much of that was down to the performances of short track skater Yang Yang, or to be more precise Yang Yang (A). She was so called to distinguish her from team-mate and fellow short track skater with the same name, who was in turn known as Yang Yang (L). Initially they had been given the extra initials ‘L’ and ‘S’, standing for ‘Large’ and ‘Small’, but Yang Yang (L) objected to her new moniker, so she changed it to Yang Yang (A), with the A standing for August, the month of her birth.
Yang Yang (A) was already an established competitor, having helped China win silver in the relay at Nagano 1998, and she had been steadily improving ever since. He greatest achievements thus far had come outside the Olympic arena, as she had won six overall world championship titles in a row and an astonishing total of 34 world titles.
In many ways, she had nothing left to prove. Yet in the eyes of Chinese sports fans, there was enormous pressure on her coming into Salt Lake City, since the country had yet to win its first gold medal at the Winter Games. When Yang Yang (A) arrived in the USA, she knew she would be the main focus of attention and of expectation.
Her first final was in the 1,500m, but gold eluded her; in fact, there was no medal at all, with skaters from the Republic of Korea taking first and second place, and Bulgaria's Evgeniya Radanova taking bronze.
In the 500m three days later, Yang Yang (A) was expected to vie with Radanova for victory. Both skaters made the final with ease, along with another Chinese athlete, Wang Chunlu and Canada's Isabelle Charest. But from the start, it was Yang who dominated, winning a convincing gold, as Radanova finished second and Chunlu took the bronze. Clutching the Chinese flag she burst into tears on her victory lap as she celebrated her country’s first gold medal at the Winter Games.
A few days later she won another gold with an equally dominant performance in the 1,000m, and she was joined on the podium by Yang Yang (S), who took the bronze. The victory was also notable because it was the first time that any short track skater had won two individual gold medals at the same Games.
Yang Yang (A) was back in the Olympic spotlight ahead of the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, as a designated torch bearer. That same year she was elected as a member of the International Olympic Committee.