URUMQI, China, Jan. 14 (Xinhua) -- More and more children are coming to Altay City in Xinjiang, where Yilamujiang Mulaji lives. The 51-year-old man is known as the father and first coach of Chinese cross-country skier Dinigeer Yilamujiang.
The 18-year-old Dinigeer amazed the world after wining a cross-country youth skiing championship over a month ago in Norway. Some international media said that new stars like Dinigeer are the future of Chinese skiing.
In 1969, Yilamujiang Mulaji was born in Altay City, Altay Prefecture, to a family with many children.
Altay Prefecture borders Russia, Kazakhstan and Mongolia, with a total area of 118,000 square kilometers and a population of 670,000. Through textual research on the rock paintings in the mountains near Altay city, some scholars found that the ancestors of the Altai mountain may have started to use fur skis to travel and hunt more than 10,000 years ago.
In the 1980s, the Altay Ski Team produced many excellent alpine and cross-country skiers. Yilamujiang Mulaji was one of them.
In 1993, he won third place in a national cross-country skiing competition held in Changbai Mountain, which marked the peak of his career. As he began to have even more ambitions for his future success, something happened soon after.
"Around 1994, the Altay Ski Team was disbanded, so I retired," Yilamujiang Mulaji said.
After that, he worked in an office as a staff member of the local sports committee. The snowboards that had accompanied him for many years then became antiques in his cupboard.
In 2009, the Altay government was determined to revive skiing. At the beginning of 2010, Yilamujiang Mulaji was appointed to coach a cross-country skiing team of 20 teenagers.
"They all started from zero. There were three girls in the team, and Dinigeer was one of them," Yilamujiang Mulaji said.
Cross-country skiing demands a special field: the snow must be pressed and trails must have grooves for skis to pass through.
However, the team couldn't afford to rent a snow groomer, so Yilamujiang Mulaji and the young players made the grooves on their own. They would first stand in line abreast, all in their skis, while moving laterally and simultaneously, and a 3km long trail would be done.
"When the snow was heavy, or more than 1m deep, it would take us seven or eight hours to press the snow," Yilamujiang Mulaji said. "Since the piste needs be hardened during the night, we could only practice the next day."
He coached the children for two years. "Eight of the 20 children became professional athletes. Some are in university, some on local teams and some on national teams," Yilamujiang said.
There have also been troubles for him. Over the past few years, Yilamujiang Mulaji has accompanied Dinigeer to participate and train in many strong skiing countries. "We still have a long way to go," he said.
Cross-country skiing is one of the most gold-producing sports in the winter Olympics, and a popular sport for all ages. In Norway, Yilamujiang Mulaji was shocked by the high participation of skiing. "An amateur event would have tens of thousands of participants, from seniors to little kids."
When bidding for the winter Olympics, China set a goal "to involve 300 million people in winter sports".
Altay city has seen positive changes. With the rising number and scale of ski field and increasingly sound facilities and management, under the organization of local government, students of primary and secondary school could have their sports class in ski resorts.
Moreover, there are special areas on buses for the passengers to put their snow boards on buses. In 2019, Altay city became one of the pilot cities for the promotion of pulley, which enables children to practice cross-country skiing in summer.
"So much has been improved in just a few years," Yilamujiang Mulaji said, "but if we want to win, we need to work harder!"