Win­terath­letes­des­per­ate toim­pres­son­home­soil

China Daily (Canada) - - XINJIANG -

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.

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