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During breakfast, Dai Li saw Yue Zhao again in the dining hall of the hotel.
Should I tell him the truth about his retirement? Dai Li hesitated. Three years have passed. Yue Zhao didn't end up having bone cancer. I shouldn't let Coach Xue always take the blame for others. As he thought about it, Dai Li took his dinner plate and walked over to Yue Zhao.
"Is this seat taken?" Dai Li pointed at the seat in front of Yue Zhao.
"No, Coach Li, it is vacant. Please, sit." Yue Zhao didn't say no to Dai Li. They were similar in age, which made them much more similar than they had originally thought.
Dai Li sat down and chatted with Yue Zhao leisurely at first. Then he said, "Yesterday I called Coach Li Xue of the national team."
When Dai Li mentioned Li Xue's name, Yue Zhao frowned as expected.
"I had been studying with the national team earlier. You could say Coach Xue is my teacher. He also arranged for me to act as a coach for Tsinghua University." Dai Li explained himself first, then said, "I told Coach Xue about your experience."
Yue Zhao put down his chopsticks, raising his head with an unkind expression. "What did he say?"
"Coach Xue told me the truth about your retirement." Dai Li paused a moment, then said, "At the time, your mother came to the national team and requested the national team force you to retire."
"My mother?" Yue Zhao was quite surprised.
Dai Li told Yue Zhao all the issues Li Xue had told him. After that, Yue Zhao fell silent. He didn't say anything for a long time.
It is said that no one knows a son better than his mother, and vice versa; the children also know their parents very well. It was crystal clear to Yue Zhao that his mother would absolutely do something like this.
Yue Zhao suddenly realized that he might have blamed the national team wrongly for his compulsory retirement.
Dai Li had also stopped talking, giving Yue Zhao some time to process the information. Then he asked, "Didn't your mother support you becoming an athlete?"
"What can I say? Before, my mother used to be very supportive; however, after the bone cancer diagnosis, she kept trying to persuade me to give up my sports career." Yue Zhao sighed deeply. "My mother doesn't know much about sports. She always thought my 'bone cancer' was caused by the sprint training."
"Do you still hate the national team?" Dai Li asked.
"I don't know." Yue Zhao shook his head. "I really don't know!"
Yue Zhao was quite bewildered. Over the years, he had held a grudge against the national team over his forced retirement. However, what he had learned today had made him think about things differently.
"I hope you can let go of this grudge now," Dai Li continued. "You should know that the track and field athletes of our country couldn't separate themselves from the system. Joining the national team and competing for our country; this is the ultimate goal of athletes.
"Since you have chosen the career of an athlete, it means you have to keep getting better. You have to face the national team sooner or later. Even if you become a judge after you retire, there will always be intersections between Nandu University and the national team. You can't face the national team with hatred for a lifetime, right?
"In addition, you are only twenty-six now; you still have the chance to get back to your peak and return to the national team!" Dai Li stopped, deliberately looking at Yue Zhao carefully. The craving for greatness flashed Yue Zhao's eyes, which Dai Li noticed.
Yue Zhao shook his head. "I am already twenty-six; how could I return to the national team? The national team won't need me. My time in this race was 10.42 seconds, which should be quite satisfactory. If I were in my early twenties, I would definitely be admitted to the national team. However, 10.42 seconds cannot help an athlete who is already twenty-six make it onto the national team."
"But 10.42 seconds wasn't the best you can do, right? Your current performance is far worse than your performance at your peak." Dai Li continued, "Feixiang Lin was able to break the world record a second time when he was twenty-six. As long as you don't give up, I think you could also get back to where you once were."
As Dai Li mentioned Feixiang Lin, Yue Zhao suddenly remembered something.
"Feixiang Lin? I remember now—you were Feixiang Lin's coach when I was in the Beikou Training Center!"
Dai Li smiled and nodded his head. Yue Zhao finally remembered him.
Wanzhou and Nandu were connected by the inter-city high speed train, so it was very convenient for Yue Zhao to go home. He left the hotel a little after 9AM; when he arrived home, lunch hadn't been started yet.
"Mom, Dad, I'm home." His parents rented a small apartment. As long as the family was there, however, it was a warm and sweet home.
"Little Yue Zhao is home. Your mom is cooking inside," Yue Zhao's father said.
Last night Yue Zhao had told his parents that he had won a silver medal, so his parents did not ask how the races went.
I'll go help mom! Yue Zhao dropped his bag, took off his overcoat, and walked into the kitchen. A moment later, several dishes were placed on the table. Although the dishes were nothing eye-catching, they were nutritionally balanced.
"Little Yue Zhao, the races must have been very exhausting. Eat more." Yue Zhao's mother kept adding food to the plate of Yue Zhao.
"That's plenty of food, it's enough for me." Yue Zhao ate a mouthful of food, and said casually, "I met an acquaintance during the match held in Wanzhou. He is a coach for the national team." Yue Zhao's parent didn't reply him, seemingly because they didn't want to.
Yue Zhao continued, "He told me that when I was misdiagnosed, you went to the national team and met with the head coach."
Yue Zhao's parents put down their chopsticks and stared at each other. They knew they couldn't hide it anymore.
Finally, Yue Zhao's father said, "Yes, we went to the national team and met with Head Coach Shuren Zhao and Deputy Head Coach Li Xue. It is us who requested that the national team force you to retire."
Before Yue Zhao could ask why, his father continued, "Your mom and I don't want you to be an athlete anymore. Although the tumor in your knee was not cancer and healed, it must have been caused by years of training. This time it may not have been bone cancer, but what about the next time? What about the future?"
Yue Zhao's father sighed regretfully. He said, "Your mom and I are getting old, and our family is quite fragile now. If you continue your training and you really do have bone cancer, what would we do?"
Next to him, Yue Zhao's mother said, "You are our only son. We don't want you to be somebody, win a lot of championships,or make a lot of money; we only hope that you can be safe and sound. We would be very content if our family could get together."
"Ever since you returned from the United States, your mom and I have always worried you. We are afraid you really could have bone cancer. We also did some research; as a result of of years of training, many athletes suffer from lifelong injuries and disabilities. Their life is very painful, especially when they get old. We don't want you to be like them," Yue Zhao's father said.
Beside him, Yue Zhao's mother also persuaded him immediately, "Little Yue Zhao, respect your mother's wishes. Stop your training and don't be an athlete anymore!"
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