Fish in China represent surplus, to always have plenty,” says Gao, smiling. “Because of my diving, people in my country call me a mermaid.”
Gao is one of seven former Olympians with artistic talents who have been selected for the Olympian Artists in Residence programme for Beijing 2022, as part of the Olympic Agora cultural project.
When asked about parallels between sport and art, Gao says, “I think diving itself is art, an art in the air, an art of the body challenging its limits. Today I write and paint, which is also art, an art of using actions to reflect my thinking.”
“When I was 14 years old, I learned about the Olympic Games for the first time through television, and participating in the Games became my dream. I stood on top of the Olympic podium at the age of 18 and defended my title four years later, which is the greatest pride of my life. After retirement, no matter what difficulties I encounter, I can overcome them just by recalling the efforts I had made to realise the dream of being Olympic champion. The Olympic experience gives me courage, strength, confidence and honour to confront challenges in my life.”
After retiring from competition, Gao coached in Edmonton, Canada, for many years, helping to produce many national team divers in Canada. She returned to China in 2005 and has been involved with charity work since then. Gao is the founder and President of the Star Power Charity Foundation in Beijing, and is also the first ambassador of Compact2025, a partnership that develops and disseminates evidence-based advice to politicians and other decision-makers aimed at ending hunger and malnutrition.
In between all this, she also took up painting seriously. About five years ago, she decided she wanted to study calligraphy and Chinese brush painting, but because she was so well-known she had to take lessons privately with a renowned painter in China. The results started showing almost immediately, as her paintings started selling and collectors began to pay a handsome price for them.
“The paintings are sold for charity,” explains Gao. “My painting sales have supported charities that take care of children who are left behind in villages. China has witnessed tremendous transformation in last 40 years, and children of farmers who left the village sometimes got left behind.”
Proceeds from Gao’s art also go towards supporting her Star Power Charity foundation, which helps retired athletes and retired coaches.
In 2018, Gao convened more than 130 Olympic champions to establish this foundation in Beijing.
“We go to schools across the country to spread the core concept of the foundation: Be your own champion”, says Gao. “We tell teenagers that champions grow from failure, and we recount how we tried and failed countless times before we became champions. I hope teenagers will like sports and physical education, because the real sport spirit comes from failure, which takes more courage than to win. Being our own champion should be our ultimate pursuit. And sports cultivate our attitude towards failure and give us the courage to do it again.”
This is the very attitude that Gao has applied to her art as well, practising for days upon days until she perfected a particular stroke.
“Once she decides something, she becomes very committed,” reveals her manager. “This is exactly why she becomes successful at whatever she chooses to do.”
Experts say her calligraphy strokes convey conviction and strength.
Gao’s three paintings for the Olympic Agora are calligraphic interpretations of the "Ode to Sport" by Pierre de Coubertin, the five colours of the Olympic rings and, of course, a painting entitled “Happy Fish for a Shared Future”, which represents athletes from five continents coming together for the Olympic Summer and Winter Games. This painting also celebrates Beijing as the only host city in the world to host both the Summer and Winter Games.
All of Gao’s works, as well as those by the other six Olympian artists in residence, can be viewed in the online Olympic Agora exhibition here.
Launched by the Olympic Foundation for Culture and Heritage (OFCH) at PyeongChang 2018, the Olympian Artists in Residence programme celebrates the link between sport and culture by offering opportunities to athletes with artistic interests to produce and present new artworks during and between editions of the Olympic Games
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Olympian artist Gao Min (CHN)
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