In any regular circumstance, Liu Yutong comes across as a shy 15-year-old.
That is until she takes to the court. When wielding her racket, she is a threat to some of the most experienced Para badminton athletes in the world today.
Liu lost both legs in a car accident at the age of four. She went through life like a regular teenager and started playing table tennis at school when her coach found her and encouraged her to take up badminton. “It’s been badminton ever since and I have no regrets,” said Liu.
In 2017 at age 13, Liu won her first World Championships title, in the women’s singles Wheelchair (WH2) category. She then retained her world title last month, proving that her win two years ago was not a fluke.
“I was surprised two years ago. I didn’t know how I got there. And now, I’m just grateful that I can do this again and I will continue to improve,” she said.
She also took the 2019 women’s doubles world title with partner Yin Menglu in the WH1-2 category.
Liu’s achievements for someone so young are the envy of many. In 2018, she won two gold medals at the Asian Para Games in Jakarta, Indonesia – the women’s singles WH2 and the mixed doubles WH1-2 with Qu Zimao.
“I think that my racket skills are my advantage because I am not fast or very flexible in the wheelchair unlike some of the other athletes,” Liu said, citing Korea’s legend Kim Jungjun as one she watches. “Kim moves so easily with the chair and is so flexible.”
Liu is a fan of Lin Dan as well, who she claims is not only highly skilled but extremely competent. “He just knows how to win every match, even when he is down,” she said.
Her team is also her support, and as the youngest member, constantly looks up to them for guidance. “I’m like everyone’s little sister. They are all older and I am learning so much from them, about badminton and about life.”
Off the court, Liu does not differ that much from any other teenager. “When we’re on tour and in between competing and training, I play computer games. I love the shooting ones,” said Liu.
Her other love is art. “My previous school not only 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.”
With less than a year to go to the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics, Liu’s focus right now is the same as any Para badminton athlete. “Yes, I want to win a Paralympic medal. Gold if possible. But I cannot take it for granted just because I have won world titles,” said Liu.
In the BWF Road To Tokyo standings, China currently has three of its athletes in the top five of the women’s singles Wheelchair (WH2) rankings. Liu heads the list, followed by Li Hongyan in second and Xu Tingting in fourth. In Basel, they clean swept the medals with Li taking silver and Xu sharing bronze with Japan’s Rie Ogura.
“Xu is actually the more difficult person for me to compete against but I have my Olympic dream like everyone else and I will do my best,” said Liu.
Go chase your dream Liu Yutong.