Feature: Figure skating heats up among children in south China

Source: Xinhua| 2020-10-02 16:26:27|Editor: huaxia

Children practise figure skating at the World Ice Arena Nanning in September, 2020 in Guangxi, China. (Xinhua photo)

With the 2022 Winter Olympics acting as a catalyst, children living in southern China have greater access to ice and snow sports.

NANNING, China, Oct. 2 (Xinhua) -- Born in Nanning, capital city of south China's subtropical Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Zhang Beibei and many of her peers did not grow up with ice and snow sports. However, she is now a seasoned figure skater.

The 13-year-old embarked on her figure skating journey eight years ago, when the World Ice Arena Nanning, the first commercial indoor skating rink in the city, opened to the public.

"As I took my first steps on ice, I immediately had a huge desire to skate," she recalled. "Being a rookie, I found it hard to learn skating. I could only grip the railings for support and trudge slowly along. Despite falls and injuries, I kept practising and gradually felt empowered as I have conquered many fears and challenges."

Her hard work paid off. In 2013, Zhang won four gold medals and one bronze during an Asian figure skating competition in Thailand. She passed the national figure skating level tests the following year.

In August 2020, the ice rink held its 8th anniversary celebration, during which Zhang raised the roof with her dazzling performance.

"Though some of my friends I made in the rink may not be engaged in the sport in the future, I made up my mind that figure skating is definitely something I want to do forever," she said.

This was echoed by Liang Yunlingmei, a 10-year-old local primary student. Four years into the sport, she has developed a strong passion for figure skating.

"Figure skating has been an integral part of my life," said Liang. Every midday after school, she rushes to the ice rink, quickly puts on her skates and protective gear and steps out onto the rink to practise routines for at least one hour, without missing a beat.

"The delicate balance of artistry and athleticism, the sparkles, and the skills required to glide and jump across the ice with only a thin pair of blades are mind-blowing. That's why I am obsessed with the sport," the girl said.

"She has a gift for figure skating and I should try my best to help her thrive on the sporting excellence," said her mother Chen Yun.

However, the lack of facilities and figure skating coaches in Nanning concerned Chen.

"Due to the warm climate and high cost of venue construction and operation, many southern cities are relatively short of snow and ice sports facilities. A large number of coaches are retired athletes from the north and some of them are reluctant to stay long, leading to a lack of skating coaches here," Chen said.

Her views were shared by Li Xia, mother of Zhang Beibei. "For these reasons, some parents choose to enroll their children in professional training programs in the north. Unlike them, my daughter attended primary and middle schools near home while doing the sport under the guidance of coaches," said Li. She also hired tutors to help Zhang with schoolwork to ensure she strikes a balance between sport and studies.

"The drills are strenuous and time-consuming, but we never thought of giving up," said the mother, who has taken Zhang to many northern cities over the years to seek direction from high-caliber coaches. Encouraged by her mother, Zhang has participated in various figure skating competitions to hone her skills.

Yan Han of China performs during the men's free skating event at the 2020 ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships in Seoul, South Korea, Feb. 9, 2020. (Xinhua/Wang Jingqiang)

China has pledged to have "300 million people involved in snow and ice sports events" in preparation for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

Drawn by the coming Winter Olympics, a growing number of people taken up winter sports in China, among which more and more children in the south have fallen in love with skating.

At present, the World Ice Arena Nanning has more than 30,000 members, of which about 500 children aged between four and 12 practise skating on a regular basis, according to Rong Juding, director of the school department of the skating rink.

In 2019, the Olympic-standard ice rink was designated by the Guangxi Sports Bureau as the training base for figure skaters in the region. In addition to serving athletes, the 2,200-square-meter rink is open to the public, with the number of visitors hitting 2,000 to 4,000 at weekends.

This summer, the ice rink organized several training sessions and invited Chinese skater Yan Han to give lessons to enthusiasts.

"He shared a lot of experience in practising the moves," Liang chuckled. "Following his guidance, my skating technique has improved a lot."

"Next, we plan to team up with local education and sports authorities to engage more students in skating," Rong told Xinhua.

"I hope more people will join me in enjoying and popularizing this mesmerizing sport," Zhang said.