Guo Xiuju, a 51-year-old from Qingdao, Shandong province, has never had an opportunity to go inside Beijing's National Stadium, better known as the "Bird's Nest".
In 2013, she visited but missed the opening hours. Instead, she lingered outside, where she had her photograph taken for 10 yuan ($1.60).
What Guo could not have imagined back then was that two years later, she would be invited back not as a visitor, but as an athlete, running in the Beijing 2015 IAAF World Championships. She will compete in the 400-meter category for veteran runners, a competition open to athletes over the age of 35.
Guo Xiuju practices running at the Qingdao Technological University stadium in Shandong province on Tuesday for the compitition at the Bird's Nest on Aug 29. Zhang Liwei / For China Daily
"This will be the pinnacle of my life," said Guo, who has been running since she could walk. "I am an amateur and I run because I love to run."
According to Guo, it all started with a call from a friend. "She told me the 2015 Beijing World Championships will feature this competition, and suggested that I try," recalled Guo. "My first reaction was: What? Me? Representing China?"
Despite her self-doubt, Guo admitted she was tempted by what she called her "inbuilt competitive streak". "The fighter inside me was reawakened," she said.
Guo has stood on the winner's podium before, many times. A familiar presence in various national running competitions for amateurs, she has proved herself to be a gifted athlete.
But the World Championships still seemed a distant dream, until Guo won the national 400-meter competition for veteran runners in May. "Since I had stopped competing for quite some time, I only spent two months preparing for the national event," she said.
Her big moment will come at 5:50 pm on August 29, and Guo is certainly not wasting her time. Apart from daily exercises, she also follows a strict food regimen. "I want to be in top form," she said.
Li Xiuhua, a director with the event's Beijing organizating committee, said, "While many die-hard track and field fans might be expecting the breaking of world records in the coming Beijing event, the IAAF has sent, through the veteran competitions, a strong signal that sport is for all people of all ages."
According to Li, in this year's World Championships, veteran runners can compete in two categories, the 400 meters for women, in which Guo will take part, and the 800 meters for men. "The distance will allow the audience more time to engage in and appreciate the beauty of sport," she said.
First launched by the IAAF, championships for veteran athletes have been held in many Chinese cities. In 1993, China took part for the first time in the World Championships for veteran athletes, held in Japan.
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(China Daily 08/08/2015 page2)