By Sportswriter Ma Xiangfei
SOCHI, Feb. 15 (Xinhua) -- Unlike happily-tearful Olympic champions we have seen for the past eight days in Sochi, Zhang Hong was all smiles on the top of the podium.
"Try not to cry," her coach whispered to her as the historical victory was looming.
"Why would I?" Zhang was wondering.
In an interview with Xinhua on Saturday, Zhang said she didn't understand why she was unable to shed a drop of happy tear for the unprecedented feat -- winning the first ever Olympic speed skating gold medal for China.
She was beaming while watching her one minute 14.02 seconds remain unbeatable in Thursday's 1,000m final.
The history-making win ended a 34-year wait for gold by Chinese who had strived, and failed in the past nine Winter Games.
The 25-year-old nobody beat a strong field that included three-time Olympic champion Ireen Wust, World Cup No. 1 Heather Richardson and world record holder Brittany Bowe.
Zhang received her gold medal next day in the Olympic Park Plaza, the day she was previously scheduled to fly home.
"When the competition drew to a close and the victory was within reach, my coach patted on my shoulder and said, 'try not cry'," recalled Zhang.
"Why would I? I was confused. It was all about excitement and happiness. Never felt like crying."
Zhang, whose previous best result was a silver medal in the Nagano world sprint championships earlier this year, gave all the credit to Feng Qingbo, who took over her training six years ago.
"I was at a crossroad then, because many years being a short track speed skater didn't takke me anywhere," she said.
Standing at 1.74m, Zhang found it harder to compete on the 111-meter short track than her shorter teammates in the northeastern city of Harbin, such as Wang Meng, the four-time Olympic champion who was forced out of the Sochi Games by a double fracture in her ankle.
"Eight years was a long time for full-time athletes like us. I did not have decent results. My family, my friends and I all started wondering if I should pick up a new sport," said Zhang, who started skating at seven and never made it to the national short track team.
On recommendation by Harbin team officials, Zhang switched to speed skating in 2008 and Feng became her coach.
"He never told me that when he took over me, he already had faith in me. He believes that I will be somebody," said Zhang of the coach.
The first two years on the 400m rink was difficult.
"They looked the same but the truth is they really aren't. I had to learn many new skills, and tried to adapt to the sport physically and mentally," said Zhang, who admitted she had considered quitting.
Frustrated sometimes in training though, Zhang remains a cheerful girl, refusing to worry too much. Her lightheartedness bewildered Feng.
"My coach scolded me like 'you don't have ambition and you don't have good results, but you keep laughing all the day!'"said Zhang.
Without impressive results on international level, Zhang had been out of the public's sight. Even her bronze medal in the 2012 world sprint championships and a silver in the 2014 edition did not draw much attention - until Thursday.
"My coach asked about my goal again yesterday. I said, I don't have any, I just enjoy the moment!" said Zhang.
With the life-changing victory, Zhang doesn't think she will change much.
"I will not fill myself with far-reaching goals," she said. "I prefer to do things little by little, one step at a time. I may lack ambition but not everyone can hold on to one thing for so many years like I did."