Although he's been skating for only three years, Gao Yonglu has earned the nickname "Emporer of the Rollerskates" by Chinese Internet users.
Why? At 70 years old, Gao is a grandpa on inline skates, speeding down the road alongside bicycles and motor vehicles. With his long, gray hair and chest-length beard, he looks more scholar than sportsman, but a video of his skating skills stunned netizens.
Gao earned his fame and nickname after a passerby spotted him on one of his frequent skating trips from Chengdu to Shuangliu County. The passerby recorded Gao to video and posted the video online.
That day, he had made an 80-kilometer journey all the way to northern Chengdu's Jinniu County to visit some friends—all on his skates.
Years ago, Gao himself probably would not have believed he'd be able to accomplish such a feat.
"I'd skated once before, decades ago, when I was in middle school. I fell down as soon as I put the skates on, so from then on I never tried it again," Gao explained. That is, until three years ago, when he began taking his two grandchildren to buy roller skates. On the spot, he decided it looked like fun, and he wanted a try. This time, he didn't even manage to stand up all the way before falling over. "The salesperson wouldn't even sell me the skates," said Gao. "But it sparked a sudden interest in me, and I was determined to learn."
Eventually Gao bought a pair of inline skates for RMB750, and the salesperson taught him the basics of skating. "I'm not even as good as my grandkids. They have a professional teacher. I'm just fiddling about on my own."
But after skating for a few months, Gao started using his skates as a means of transportation, frequently skating from his home in Shuangliu County all the way to Chengdu.
Apart from his initial attempt to stand up, he's fallen four times on the road—one incident left him with a gaping wound on his forehead. But he also says it's been great for his health, allowing him to shed his former beer belly.
Concerned for his safety, all of his friends and family members urge him to give up his hobby, but Gao is determined to carry on, putting in dozens of kilometers every day. "If I go one day without skating, I start feeling anxious," he said. "As soon as I put my skates on, I feel totally carefree."
He's in good company. Just last month, two young Sichuanese skaters took home medals for their performances at the World Freestyle Skating Championships.