As the festive atmosphere ofNew Year’s holidaywafted around the city of Urumqi, the sight of speedskater RehanbaiTalabuhan skimming across the ice at a suburban rink, making circle after circle, was truly impressive.
The young man, amemberof the Kazak ethnic group, wasamong226 athletes fromthe Xinjiang Uygur autonomous regionwhohave been training wholeheartedly for the 13th NationalWinterGames. They all have one aim: to earn glory when the event is held in the regional capital later this month.
“It’s a really rare opportunity for us to be able to compete in front of our families. We are so desperate to prove that Xinjiang is a force to be reckoned with in winter sports,” said the 24-year-old, who started skating at age 13.
It will be the first time the national event has been held outside of China’s traditional winter sports powerhouses, the northeastern provinces of Heilongjiang and Jilin.
Hampered by poor infrastructure and a lack of funding, Xinjiang’s winter sports athletes have been unable to achieve glory at the elite level, despite the region’s long tradition of winter sports and related activities.
“Mygoal is towin themen’s5000 metergoldmedalfor Xinjiangandprepareforgreatergoals at the2018Winter Olympics (tobeheld in Pyeongchang, SouthKorea),” said Rehanbai, whoin2014becamethe first ethnicKazak tobedraftedintothe Chinesenationalspeedskating team.
Once the underdog of China’s elite sporting scene, over thepast three years Xinjiang has built a multi-ethnic teamstrong enough to compete at all 11 sports featured at the event, and the region’s athletes are keen todemonstrate their prowess on theirhome turf.
The region’s freestyle half-pipe skiers have recorded an impressive improvement at the competitive level, thanks to the refurbishment of the SilkRoad SkiResort in Urumqi, which provides a practice base nearhome, although even they have had towork hard to becomeaccustomedto conditions at the recently refurbished facility.
“It’s great to be able to practice at the competition venue for the national games. Our athletes have been adapting to the conditions, and they are all geared up to compete,” said Chen Can, coach of the Xinjiang halfpipe ski team.
A speedskater from the Xinjiang team trains at the Xinjiang Ice Sports Center on Nov 22.