Games: Training in Europe helped team
with our own traditions to make it an effective program for 2022,” said Ni Huizhong, director of the National Winter Sports Administrative Center.
Although the foreign prescription has not yet yielded golden results, some historic first-time performances of Chinese Olympians have underlined how it is working out.
A product of foreign coaching, Chinese snowboarder Liu Jiayu won a silver medal in the women’s halfpipe on Feb 13 to bring home China’s first snowboarding Olympic medal, with a highflying, multitwist run honed by Finnish trainer Timo-Pekka Koskela.
Liu’s fluent English and easygoing manner also made her a darling for media worldwide after the race.
“This is the culture of snowboarding. Having spent so long training overseas with girls from other countries, I’ve learned to just enjoy the sport and myself every time I run,” said Liu, who finished fourth at the Vancouver Games in 2010.
Foreign know-how has also helped China expand participation to sports it never had entered before, such as sliding event skeleton.
Guided by retired Olympic silver medalist Jeff Pain of Canada, Geng Wenqiang, a former long jumper, became the first Chinese to qualify for the Olympics in this one-man, rudderless sledding discipline and advanced to the final run to finish 13th among 30 competitors in Pyeongchang. China’s two-man and four-man bobsled teams also qualified for the Olympics for the first time in Pyeongchang, coached by Australian Heath Spence.
“My coach Jeff really helped me to understand the sport quicker, so I raced at my Olympic debut better than expected,” said Geng, who joined the newly established national program through a crosssport talent selection in 2015.
In freestyle skiing halfpipe, Zhang Kexin, 15, finished ninth in Pyeongchang after winning her first try at a World Cup event in Zhangjiakou, Hebei province, in December with Spanish-Canadian Mauro Nunez nursing the young team only put together in April 2016.
Zhang’s victory in Hebei made her the second-youngest female skier in the world to win a World Cup title at 15 years, 200 days old, just one day older than Anais Caradeux of France, who did so in January 2006.
Despite the encouraging improvements in Pyeongchang, the winning formula needs more ingredients to produce expected results at the 2022 Beijing Olympics, according to foreign coaches.
“The system doesn’t quite understand skeleton yet,” said Pain, who was hired for the Chinese bobsled and skeleton team in 2016.
“A team wins medals in this sport, not just one pilot. There should be a doctor, a physiotherapist, a coach and a manager. Our team at the moment is very small. We have to add a lot of missing pieces, absolutely,” said Pain, who won silver in the highly technical event at the 2006 Torino Winter Olympics.
The relatively closed sports talentcultivating system in China, with less all-around education offered than athletic training, also has posed a challenge for elevating to the next level, said Peter Kolder, a Dutch long-track speed skating coach hired for the Chinese youth team.
“It’s not only about training,” said Kolder, a former mentor of Dutch four-time Olympic champion skater Sven Kramer. “Speed skating is not an easy sport, which technically requires a lot of knowledge about biology or biomechanics. The athletes have to receive more education to understand it so they train smarter and better.”
Citing examples of China’s strong sports such as table tennis, which attracts foreigners to train and play in the Chinese league, experts have suggested that the Chinese skiers should likewise stay more with their counterparts in the heart of winter sports.
China’s cross-country skiing coach Kristiansen said he has proposed a talent-improving plan centered on a training program in Europe to the Chinese governing body after a four-month fruitful camp in Finland leading up to the Pyeongchang Games.
The easier access to better training facilities and the exchange with world leaders in the mainstream circle of the sport will lift China quicker from a rookie to a competitor, said Kristiansen, 48.
“What is the issue in this sport is that it’s breathing and living in Europe. That means we probably should spend more time there. We need to overstep some climbs on the stairs,” said Kristiansen, the former national team coach of Estonia and Norway.
Although finishing 36th in the women’s 10km free, Chinese skier Li Xin narrowed her time gap with the winner in Pyeongchang to about two minutes and 40 seconds from five minutes at a World Cup event in Finland in November after the Europe training camp.
“We are kind of realistically oriented with both feet on the ground. But I believe there is a hope for the future toward 2022,” Kristiansen said.
A boy signs an agreement to adopt a stray dog in Xiangyang, Hubei province, on Tuesday. The city’s animal shelter held an event at a shopping mall to encourage the adoption of stray dogs, as well as to raise awareness of the humane treatment of animals.