Just over a year ago, on the biggest sporting stage of all, the Olympics in Tokyo, Beiwen Zhang was wheeled off court with a ruptured Achilles tendon.
She’s back in Tokyo now, for the TotalEnergies BWF World Championships 2022, and on Tuesday she got through her opening challenge with a 21-8 21-14 result over France’s Léonice Huet.
She’s come a long way over the last one year, through surgery, rehab, and early tentative steps towards normalcy. Zhang, though, typically makes light of what she went through and jokes about her predicament.
“My coach saw me in Singapore. After my match with (Pornpawee) Chochuwong, he said, compared with the Olympics, you’re so bad right now. I was like, it’s true, I’m injured (laughs), if I’m better than better than my Olympic level, what was I doing in the Olympics?”
Zhang talks with a curious distance between herself and her injury. There is no trace of regret or self-pity or even any reference to the pain she went through. She even calls herself lucky: she couldn’t move well during her events in Asia due to the collagen stitches in her Achilles, and is thankful for a doctor in Malaysia who undid the knots using a needle, which enables her to move better now.
“Right now I can push 100 per cent, and even through my leg is not (strong as) before the injury. It’s just a little bit weak… Once the collagen stitches were removed I could push more and get more flexibility.”
And even though she hasn’t paused to think about it, she says she is most proud of not being afraid.
“Actually I didn’t really think about it, but of course I’m proud of myself because when I play I’m not afraid. So that’s the biggest fear — if you are afraid you cannot play anything.”