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Tibetan athlete walks a fine line

Associated Press / August 12, 2012
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LONDON — Most athletes have trouble with races at higher altitudes. Qieyang Shenjie of Tibet had an issue with the low altitude of the London Olympics.

The 22-year-old Qieyang claimed bronze in the women’s 20-kilometer race walk on Saturday, the first Tibetan athlete China has ever fielded in the Olympics.

‘‘I'm extremely honored to take part as the first representative of the Tibetans at the Olympic Games and to win a medal,’’ said Qieyang.

She comes from a family of Tibetan herders, started running as a kid on the Tibetan plateau, and then joined a sports school. She said her name means ‘‘the sun’’ in Chinese.

She said Tibetans in the London crowd encouraged her as she raced.

‘‘I heard it! Really. I heard a Tibetan cheering me on!’’ she said.

On Constitution Hill, next to Queen Elizabeth II’s gardens behind Buckingham Palace, Tibetan exiles hung a banner using her Tibetan name: ‘‘You go, girl, Choeyang Kyi! The first ever Tibetan Olympian!!! We Tibetans are with you.’’

Tibetan fans say they’re torn between their pride for her as a Tibetan and their discomfort that she’s running in Chinese colors.

‘‘I have really, really mixed feelings about today. I’m cheering her because she is Tibetan,’’ said Dhundup, who like many Tibetans uses only one name.

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