For the first time ever, Taiwanese Olympic athletes struck gold when Chu Mu-yen (朱木炎) and Chen Shih-hsin (陳詩欣) won two gold medals in the lightweight taekwondo competition at 2004 Olympics Games in Athens, setting the whole country aflame with pride and joy.
On Aug. 26, Chen Shih-hsin, 25, defeated Cuba's Yanelis Yuliet Labrada Diaz in the final of the women's under-49kg division and won Taiwan's first-ever Olympic gold medal. Later that night, Chu Mu-yen, 22, won the gold in the men's under-58kg division by defeating Mexican Oscar Francisco Salazar Blanco.
It marked the first time that any country had won two gold medals on a single day in taekwondo since it became an Olympic event 12 years ago. The record-breaking victory turned the two young athletes into national heroes overnight.
Upon their homecoming, the two Olympic stars were welcomed back by a huge parade in Taipei on Sept. 1 and honored by President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) six days later. The country's first gold medalists also led fourteen fellow Olympic and Paralympic medalists in singing the national anthem with university students in Oct. 10 national day celebrations.
What won Chu and Chen great admiration was the struggle behind their now-realized stellar career. Chen Shih-hsin was 18 when she ran away from home and fled the harsh life of her taekwondo training center in Kaohsiung. To earn a living in Taichung, Chen gave up her dream to kick her way onto the world stage and became a roadside vendor selling clothes and betel nuts.
Chu had always been in the shadow of fellow competitor Huang Chih-hsiung (黃志雄) in the under 58kg category, which accentuated his status as a blooming talent. But in 2002, Chu grabbed a silver medal at the Asian Games in Sapporo and defeated South Korea's top taekwondo athlete in the World Student Games last year.