Wed, Aug 29, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Father denies abusing Chinese marathon girl


Zhang Huimin, center, top, sticks her tongue out as she rides on the shoulders of her brother Zhang Di, while they are surrounded by journalists after she completed her 55-day run to Beijing on Sunday.


The father of an eight-year-old girl who completed a 55-day run across eastern China denied forcing her into the ordeal, saying she considered pounding the pavement for hours each day a form of play.

"You can force your child one day," Zhang Jianmin (張建民) was quoted as saying in the China Daily newspaper, referring to his daughter, Huimin (張惠敏).

"But you can't force one to wake up early in the morning everyday if one doesn't want to," he said.

Zhang Huimin arrived in Beijing on Sunday after she started her extraordinary odyssey on July 3 from Sanya, at the southern tip of the island of Hainan, 3,560km from Beijing. Her father, a distance runner in his youth, followed her on an electric bicycle.

The girl, who weighs 20kg and stands 1.25m tall, got up at 2:30am every day to train for the run and would have had to have run about 65km a day for 55 days -- the equivalent of about one-and-a-half marathons a day.

On the Beijing trip, she only rode twice on her father's motorized bicycle, the China Daily said -- when she was chased by four wild dogs and when a mountain road was too steep to run down.

Huimin herself appeared unfazed by the whole marathon event and the attention it had brought.

"I've liked running since I was very young," she said. "Running makes me happy."

China Daily said experts believed Zhang's health could suffer.

However, Zhang Jianmin said he was just carrying out his daughter's wishes, saying: "I never impose my will on her."

For the girl, running is "more about jumping and playing, rather than a chore," the paper quoted him as saying.

"I don't care about what the experts say. Although they accuse me of being cruel or abusive, I think I'm right," he said.

"She is always healthy around me and never said her legs hurt or that she was tired after running 30km," Zhang told reporters in Tiananmen Square. "I am suffering huge media pressure. But I have never worried about her future health. As she was able to endure the long distance running and has grown up healthily from the year three to eight, which are the weakest ages, there's no reason she could not endure this in the next years."

Huimin started running 3km a day when she was three and was hitting 23km a day by the time she was seven, the China Daily said.

As for her future, Dad had one eye on the Olympics.

"If she is interested in running then we will keep working on it. She'll be 18 in 10 years' time and it will be possible to take part in the Olympics ... Whatever she is interested in, I'll do my utmost to support her," he said.

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