Chinese Figure skaters Sui Wenjing (Top) and Han Cong practice during a training session on January 9, 2019. (Xinhua/Wang Lili)
By Zhang Rongfeng
BEIJING, Feb. 5 (Xinhua) -- An electronic countdown placed in the Winter Sports Administration Center's corridor of China's General Administration of Sport now reminds every passerby that the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics is exactly three years away. The Games' requirement that the host country be both "wonderful in organization and fruitful in competition" is compelling Chinese athletes to do their utmost to get ready.
COMPETING IN ALL EVENTS
China had a total of 31 national teams undergoing training for the Beijing 2022 campaign in 2018, consisting of nearly 4,000 athletes, seven times more than the number for the PyeongChang 2018 cycle at the same period.
One of China's ambitions for Beijing 2022 is to compete in all 109 events. Another is to improve both its performance and results. "Competing in all the events is a basic requirement for the Chinese delegation and it's a huge challenge for us at the same time," said Ding Dong, deputy director of the Winter Sports Administration Center.
Since China's first participation in the Winter Olympics in 1980, only Team USA has managed to compete in all available events, doing so in 1980 in Lake Placid (38 events) and in Salt Lake City in 2002 (78 events), both times as hosts. Prior to being awarded the 2022 Games, China had yet to compete in one-third of the events slated for Beijing 2022. While the country can qualify directly for 61 events as the host nation, qualification for the remaining 48 events only comes through collecting points and raising its rankings.
Summarizing the year's preparation after the 2018 PyeongChang Games, Ding said: "Fresh progress has been made and targeted training has been carried out well. We're traditionally weak in skiing, so it's an uphill battle to be involved in all of these events. But it's not impossible if we can fully seize the initiative."
SCOUTING ELITE ATHLETES
In order to achieve the goal of full participation at Beijing 2022, Ding says the top priority is finding potential elite athletes.
The Center has tried new measures in talent scouting over the past year and is selecting athletes from an expanded pool. One of the approaches used is to seek out winter sports athletes from other sports, and even from outside the world of professional sports entirely.
"We can transfer skillful athletes to skiing and skating, even though they have no previous winter sports experience," said Ding.
Since 2017, China has transferred 1,200 athletes to winter sports training teams from sports such as athletics, gymnastics, volleyball, Wushu, weightlifting, trampoline, hockey, surfing, rowing and canoeing. Beijing Dance Academy, Henan Tagou Martial Arts School and Henan Puyang Acrobatic Troupe are also key sources for potential athletes.
Ding stressed the importance of scientific consideration in athletes' selection. "We need to make sure we have the right recruitment methods. In terms of selection, we want to find potential medalists, and we have the support of foreign experts and the aid of scientific test equipment."
Chinese figure skating coach Zhao Hongbo said his squad had selected some athletes from the Beijing Dance Academy and the national acrobatic gymnastics team. He is interested to follow the development of his new recruits after they begin training alongside his veterans.
SCIENTIFIC AND TECHNICAL SUPPORT
According to Xu Jincheng, who is head of science and technology support for the training teams, the Center set up a series of support programs in 2018, including training surveillance, medical and nutritional support systems and a psychological counseling service for athletes.
"We had formulated a 'champion model' indication in 2018, which took the athlete's competition results, specialty, tactics, stamina, mentality and character into consideration. This will serve as a reference in athletes' selection and training," said Xu.
"We are collaborating with our supportive foreign experts to draw up key performance indicators (KPI) in line with the different features of various skiing and skating events," Xu added.
Four teams - figure skating, short track speed skating, curling and ice hockey - train at the Shougang Park in the western suburbs of Beijing. An intelligent dining hall was opened there last July, allowing athletes to swipe their cards and see the exact amount of calories, protein, fat, carbohydrate and sodium they have in the food on their tray. There is also an app allowing athletes to check nutrition information on their cellphone at any time. A full-time dietitian is also on hand to take questions from athletes.
"We can trace the nutrition information of any athlete for a day, a month, and even a year, so we can give suggestions on how athletes can have a balanced diet and how to improve their dining habits. And we can also connect food nutrition with general training," said An Nan, nutrition researcher from the General Administration of Sport.
For Zou Dejia, captain of China's mixed doubles curling team, the intelligent dining hall gave him a much clearer picture than was available previously. "You have a clear idea how much to eat in order to keep fit. If you have a hard training session one day, you need to take in more calories. I don't worry about eating the wrong food now, but in the past I only ate what I wanted and didn't eat anything that I didn't like the taste of, and that directly affected my training."
Speed skater Wu Dajing, China's sole gold medalist at PyeongChang 2018, also gave a thumbs-up to the dining hall. "I have always cared a lot about my food. The intelligent dining hall helps me relax before each meal. The system here is more scientific than before, and the dining there is perfect."
MORE INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION AND COMPETITION
The 2019 China-Finland Year of Winter Sports was inaugurated on January 14 during Finnish President Sauli Niinisto's visit to China, which will see China's cross-country skiers, biathletes and ice hockey players training in Finland, while ten Finnish coaches have come to China to share their training methods and philosophies.
The two sides published a joint action plan covering the years 2019-2023 aimed at promoting a future-oriented cooperative partnership. A series of measures for promoting winter sports cooperation is underway, including establishing a China-Finland winter sports department at Beijing Sport University, a leading sporting institution of higher learning in China.
China's skeleton and bobsleigh teams received local support when they trained in Germany and Austria last year, and 49 Chinese Alpine skiers underwent a four-month training stint in Europe under the instruction of top European coaches.
Early signs suggest that China's efforts have been rewarded already in the snow season. Last November, Wu Dajing won gold in the 500m short track speed skating at the ISU World Cup in Salt Lake City in a world record time of 39.505 seconds. Even in less familiar events, like biathlon, ski jumping, Nordic combined and skeleton, China has been making progress.
All of China's male ski jumpers qualified for the Continental Cup in their maiden international competition since the team was established at the end of last year. China's Geng Wenqiang won the skeleton title at Whistler, Canada at the North America Cup series, representing the first-ever IBSF tournament gold medal for China's skeleton team since its establishment in 2015.
Competition is the best training, especially for these fledgling events in China. "International events give our athletes the chance to compete directly with foreign contenders, so as to gain experience and improve. International experience can also help us improve our capacity to better organize domestic tournaments," said Li Yan, head coach of China's short track speed skating team.
"International competition is the best way for athletes to make the best use of their talents and realize their potential," she added.