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During the Snowstorm

10.2

The Return of the Glory

50

The bow lasted for ten seconds.

 

When Lin Yi Yang raised his head again, he quickly reached for the chalk, seemingly eager to start the game, but in reality, he was trying to avoid the live broadcast cameras, hoping the tears would disappear as he looked down.

 

In the restroom, Yin Guo watched the screen as his man straightened up, noticing his eyes were still red. Some things can't be hidden or suppressed, especially tears. No one can fully control their emotions.

 

"The player Lin Yi Yang is the last disciple of He Wen Feng. Unfortunately, he left the sect early," the commentator's voice echoed in the restroom, "It seems the memory of his master is unforgettable."

 

"This player has an interesting personal history. He played nine-ball in the USA last year, and everyone thought he was going to change his nationality. Unexpectedly, he has always remained a Chinese citizen up to the China Open."

 

The commentators discussed it among themselves.

 

During the break, staff members, players, and sparring partners at the training base were all watching this match.

 

From the beginning until now, Lin Yi Yang has always been a controversial player.

 

Including his recent bow, some male players gave negative comments: "The status of Jiang Yang and Meng Xiaodong is at risk. This guy has both skills and is cunning. That bow has won him a lot of favor."

 

Another player chimed in: "He's a master at drawing in money, sweeping up prizes in the nine-ball scene in the US."

 

"People go there for the prize money. The local tournaments in the US offer quite a lot," said a slim-faced man, "Losing a game there means no prize money, plus the cost of flight tickets and hotels, it's a loss."

 

"The center of nine-ball is in Asia anyway, where the real masters are. He wouldn't be able to make it here."

 

These two were newcomers this year, with the slim-faced man having made a splash by winning in Hangzhou on his first appearance, becoming the center of attention.

 

Yin Guo glanced back.

 

Lin Lin, with her arms crossed and wearing a coach's uniform, also heard this conversation. She didn't even blink, thinking about her pride in the Dongxin City crowd. She considered challenging the two newcomers to a match when she felt better, to show them there's always someone better.

 

"Alright, everyone. The afternoon exhibition match is about to begin, featuring men and women competing together," Lin Lin announced.

 

People began leaving their seats, with Yin Guo taking one last look at the screen, at the man in the shirt. She remembered last year in the apartment, him buttoning up his shirt and asking her: Can you still watch?

 

She could see Lin Yi Yang's posture, wearing a shirt and his gestures buttoning it up, all showing her the countless memories etched into his bones from backstage at the competitions.

 

Yin Guo and Lin Lin walked side by side to the training room. Suddenly, Yin Guo asked, "We can choose our opponents today, right?"

 

Lin Lin's eyes twinkled as if asking: Who do you have in mind?

 

Yin Guo looked towards the Hangzhou champion.

 

Lin Lin gave an OK gesture: "Perfect, he was looking for a match with someone of equal strength."

 

Yin Guo's choice was a rising star, fresh and eager, immediately selected for the national team upon debut. At the same time, Yin Guo was last year's world championship runner-up and also a key figure in the national team's future plans.

 

Newcomer versus newcomer, their match was as thrilling as the snooker contest in the Olympic Center.

 

Moreover, snooker requires strategic play, with star players often being old men skilled in cunning. Watching requires patience. But nine-ball is fast-paced, with players showcasing their unique styles and aggressive moves.

 

Their match was exhilarating, with various trick shots dazzling the audience.

 

Yin Guo displayed her true skills, energizing the female players in their matches against their male counterparts; from positioning to shooting, no one held back.

 

She was particularly outstanding.

 

With each colorful ball pocketed, there was no doubt, no deviation.

 

Lin Lin and the other sparring partners enjoyed the match over cups of green tea, cheering from time to time. The female players had a surprisingly high win rate across the twelve tables.

 

Yin Guo's match, being evenly matched, was fraught with peril and tension. Lin Lin finally wrote the final score 11:8 on the whiteboard. The victorious Yin Guo, leaning on the pool table, her temples soaked with sweat, her eyelashes heavy with moisture, blurring her vision with every blink.

 

"Amazing," the man opposite had to admit.

 

She caught her breath and said to her opponent, "Last year, I played against Lin Yi Yang in New York. I lost. His achievements are not just talk. If you don't accept him, prove it here."

 

She clenched the cue in her right hand, adding, "On the field, we speak only through this."

 

In the Olympic Center gymnasium, silence prevailed.

 

Meng Xiaodong watched his old rival from the sidelines.

 

He had a 3:1 lead in the early part of the match, but Lin Yi Yang rallied back, taking four frames in a row, scoring century breaks, turning the score to 3:5.

 

Perhaps it was the presence of his teacher or a special connection to this place. Lin Yi Yang started cautiously but became more confident by the sixth frame.

 

With fewer red balls on the table, Lin Yi Yang didn't rush. He seemed to want to break a record in this frame. He walked to a side table, grabbed a glass of iced green tea, and quietly observed the layout on the table.

 

Soon, he returned.

 

After adopting a stooping stance, then standing straight again, his lips pursed in concentration, he calculated how to achieve a maximum break of 147 points.

 

"We see Lin Yi Yang picking up the rest, seeming unsure," the commentator observed, "Is he aiming for a suicide shot?" The commentator laughed, a mix of anticipation and tension in his voice.

 

Lin Yi Yang's attempted shot angle was risky; a slight mistake could pocket the cue ball—a risk Meng Xiaodong would never take. This marked a difference between them.

 

"He abandoned the rest."

 

Suddenly, Lin Yi Yang made an unprepared shot, pocketing the black ball. After hitting the edge of the pocket, the cue ball bounced back into play.

 

A murmur of surprise swept through the audience, followed by a round of crisp, brief applause.

 

Without pausing, he applied chalk to his cue, moved around to the opposite side of the table, and made another shot. The black ball, just reset by the referee, was pocketed again, followed by another red ball.

 

He continued to pocket red balls and high-value black balls one after another.

 

"Great shot!" He repeatedly created opportunities to pocket the black ball.

 

The applause grew warmer but remained brief, quickly returning to silence to give the player space.

 

Lin Yi Yang leaned over, his left hand braced, and after observing the cue ball and black ball for a second, stood straight again.

 

He was contemplating his next move.

 

After a few seconds of thought, he suddenly leaned forward and executed a shot, pocketing the black ball. After circling half the table, the cue ball settled back into a perfect position for the next shot.

 

The last red ball was loudly pocketed.

 

Only the colored balls remained on the table. He needed to pocket them in sequence to smoothly win this frame and the group match.

 

Amidst the applause, Lin Yi Yang relaxed even more.

 

One by one, the colored balls were pocketed.

 

As only the cue ball and the black ball were left on the table, applause came unexpectedly.

 

This applause was not just in celebration of winning this frame but also in anticipation of his achieving the second 147 maximum break of his professional career.

 

Meng Xiaodong was the first to stand and extend his hand: "Congratulations."

 

The referee, smiling, also shook hands with Lin Yi Yang, softly saying, "Congratulations."

 

Everyone knew that with Lin Yi Yang's skill, the final black ball would surely be pocketed, and the final score achieved. Thus, from the audience to the opponent, including the referee, chose to celebrate in advance.

 

Returning to the competition after more than a year and achieving his second maximum break, his future was undeniably bright.

 

Moreover, it was the first day of the open competition on his home soil, achieved by a local player. This glory was not only Lin Yi Yang's but also belonged to the Chinese contingent!

 

Since the first 147 maximum break appeared in 1982, there have been only a little over a hundred in the entire history of snooker.

 

Every maximum break is recorded by the International Billiards and Snooker Federation.

 

Every single one.

 

Lin Yi Yang gave Meng Xiaodong a pat on the back, a gesture saying: Sorry old friend, I won this time.

 

Meng Xiaodong smiled back at him, a gentleman stepping back two paces, yielding the table.

 

Lin Yi Yang chalked his cue and leaned down without needing to aim particularly—every day since childhood, he practiced this angle, this strength, possibly hundreds of thousands of times.

 

There could be no mistake.

 

The black ball sped into the pocket, without suspense, without deviation.

 

Cheers erupted, applause filled the room.

 

The audience applauded Lin Yi Yang, thanking him and Meng Xiaodong for such a spectacular match. For fans, witnessing a thrilling match and the birth of a maximum break was incredibly fortunate.

 

In the spotlight, amidst the thunderous applause, Lin Yi Yang glanced at his teacher's seat, now empty. He guessed the elderly man couldn't sit for long and had left. He waved to the audience, nodded in acknowledgment, then, cue in hand, walked into the corridor leading to the backstage, where Wu Wei, Jiang Yang, and Fan Wen were waiting for him.

 

Jiang Yang hugged his younger brother, patting him on the back, "Teacher said, 'Well played.'"

 

"He's waiting for you backstage," Jiang Yang released him and added.

 

The two men looked at each other, warriors unafraid of battle on the field, now facing the corridor exit...

 

"What's wrong? Scared to go out?" Jiang Yang teased, "Afraid?"

 

Yes, he was afraid.

 

There were few in this world who could instill fear in him.

 

It was respect that fostered fear, a reverence that didn't diminish with age but became clearer with the passing years, like a tangible boulder weighing on his heart, daring not to move rashly.

 

He removed his tie, slowly placing it in his trouser pocket, and with a push from his brothers behind, clenched his cue and took a step forward.

 

There would be a reunion.

 

A nagging question had plagued his mind countless times during his time abroad: What if, upon his return to his homeland, he discovered that his elderly teacher had already passed away? Lin Yiyang, what are you waiting for? Why do you insist on waiting until you have the strength to compete and win championships before returning?

 

Aren't you afraid?

 

The elderly man, over eighty, could pass away at any moment.

 

Aren't you really afraid?

 

His vision gradually widened.

 

Backstage, staff and resting players were in their worlds, busy or seeking calm, finding their best mental state for the competition...

 

And there sat the elderly man outside the Chinese restroom on a temporary black leather folding chair, flanked by two family members. They had all seen Lin Yi Yang, recognized him, and upon his appearance, joyfully bent down to whisper in the elder's ear.

 

Under his teacher's gaze, Lin Yi Yang moved his legs toward the chair.

 

The once upright teacher could no longer straighten his back, truly tired from watching a snooker match that drained his strength. Behind the bifocals, his eyes showed joy and relief at finally seeing each other.

 

Lin Yi Yang tried to call out "Teacher" but seemed to lose his voice. A rough palm stroked his hand, gripping it tightly—it was the teacher, holding his hand, the one not holding the cue.

 

This grip is as if from the day he first joined Dongxin City as He Wen Feng's disciple.

 

The indoor lighting was dim, with only the lights above each pool table shining the brightest. The slightly ajar doors of offices let out the sounds of match commentary. Up to today, even the scent of the billiard room and the water stains left by mops on the concrete floor were etched into his mind.

 

He had known it was a mistake all along.

 

The mistake was being too stubborn, leaving Dongxin City, and not admitting even a single fault at the beginning. His greatest mistake was preferring to abandon his mentor and brothers, to forsake the hard-won "home" and achievements, rather than to humble himself.

 

The proud and stubborn youth thought leaving was the most carefree choice, the most principled turn, even believing that everyone was intentionally making things difficult, suppressing him, embarrassing him on purpose...

 

But he forgot that the fault was initially his; no matter where it lay or how minor or major it was, a mistake should be acknowledged, and one should bow their head.

 

"Xiaoliu (Little Six)," He Wenfeng held his hand, choking up, and after a long pause, repeated, "Xiaoliu..."

 

Everyone thought Teacher He would comment on the recent maximum break frame.

 

However, Teacher He, wiping the corner of his eyes with the back of his hand, expressed, "You've grown taller, your hands weren't this big before..."

 

The teacher couldn't hold on anymore, couldn't hold your hand anymore.

 

Lin Yi Yang knelt down, placing his cue on the floor, and took the elderly man's hands in his own, the hands that were now just skin over bone and joints, wrinkled and veiny.

 

His eyes were full of tears as he looked at his teacher, "It's cloudy outside, it might rain, and at your age, it's not convenient," the words were ordinary, but they stuck in his throat, hard to finish, "From now on... I'll call you in advance if there's a live broadcast match. You can watch from home."

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