Games: Train­ing in Europe helped team

China Daily (Canada) - - CHINA -

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.

WANG HU / FOR CHINA DAILY

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.

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