He Zhenliang, 85, remembered as China's Olympics ambassador

Updated: 2015-01-04 23:38

By Sun Xiaochen(chinadaily.com.cn)

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He Zhenliang, 85, remembered as China's Olympics ambassador

Undated file photo of He Zhenliang, former International Olympic Committe member. He died at a hospital in Beijing on Jan 4, 2015 at the age of 85. [Photo/IC]

China's sports community was mourning the passing of veteran sports official He Zhenliang, highlighting his irreplaceable contribution to China's positive image in the international Olympics family.

He, the man behind China's successful Olympic bid in 2001, died of illness on Sunday afternoon in Beijing at the age of 85, the Chinese Olympic Committee confirmed on Sunday.

With a series of high-profile posts on his resume, including former COC president and former vice-president of the International Olympic Committee, He played a pivotal role in helping Beijing win the bid for the 2008 Summer Olympics after the Chinese capital failed in its first attempt, in 1993. He was a key bid-committee executive on both occasions.

He, a native of Wuxi, Jiangsu province, saw his career shine on July 13, 2001, at the IOC 112th Session in Moscow, where he presided over Beijing's final presentation for its bid for the 2008 Olympics. The city eventually won the host role in the final vote.

The exceptional success of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing marked China's ascent to a major world sports power, which was witnessed and assisted by He, who since the 1950s had been a bridge connecting China to the international sports mainstream.

He started his career in 1955 as an international communication official, in what was then the National Sports Commission, with impressive foreign language skills. He then began working as a senior official in the 1960s for such domestic organizations as the Chinese Table Tennis Association, the All-China Sports Federation and the COC.

After being elected to the executive board of the IOC in 1985, He, who was eventually voted IOC vice-president in 1989, had devoted himself to introducing China's sports progress to the world. He promoted the Olympic Movement in China and dispelled misunderstandings about China's unique sports system by communicating consistently with the IOC and other international sports organizations.

Major sports figures in China expressed their condolences after He's death, emphasizing that the sports diplomat should be long remembered for his contribution to raising China's image from obscurity to an active and competitive player in the international sporting community.

"China's current major-member status in the IOC is inseparable from He's hard work for decades. His strong enthusiasm and responsibility to China's sports development as well as improvement of its international image truly impressed me," Wei Jizhong, former secretary-general of the COC and He's longtime colleague, told China Daily on Sunday.

Wei recalled that his most unforgettable moment regarding He was when He wept privately after Beijing failed in 1993 in its Olympic bid for the 2000 Summer Games.

"He said he felt he had let his country and people down, while in fact he'd done what he could to the utmost (to help Beijing as a bid committee member)," Wei said. "His promotion for Beijing during the first bid and his valuable suggestions the second time played a big part in the success of 2008."

Yang Yang, the retired short-track speed skater who is a two-time Olympic gold medalist and a current IOC member, hailed He as a guiding light for her transition from an elite athlete to an international sports official.

"His fruitful work in the IOC earned a positive impression from the world about Chinese sports, which inspired me and guided me to continue my career as a sports official," said Yang.

The Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games Bid Committee also issued an official statement on Sunday to mourn He's death, praising his efforts in pushing the Olympic Movement in China and vowing to do its best to win the 2022 host role as a tribute to He.