BEIJING, Dec. 26 (Xinhua) -- In a year when the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything, sports also saw many events postponed or canceled due to international travel restrictions.
But an athlete's preparation never stops. Ever since Beijing was announced as the host city of the 2022 Winter Olympics on July 31, 2015, China has been aiming at full participation in the 109 events and its best-ever result in its history at the 2022 Games.
Now, the Games are approaching the 400-day countdown. With the number of athletes preparing for Beijing 2022 slumping from over 4,000 to 1,153 last year through streamlining a pool of elite athletes, China is marching towards the final sprint before the 2022 showpiece.
Time and tide wait for no man. Striving for excellence at the winter sports' biggest stage on home soil, Chinese athletes embrace the challenges brought by the pandemic while pushing hard to progress during the process.
In March, all Chinese winter sports teams basically finished their mission of training and competing abroad, attempting to minimize the pandemic's impact.
The Chinese Olympic Committee (COC) spokesperson said that, given the coronavirus's development at an early stage, the COC adopted tailor-made approaches towards team training.
As the training plan stipulated, teams honing on specialized training back home stayed where they were. Those without the condition due to the closure of snowpacks and without the mission of training aboard were allocated to the national snow sports training base in Chengde, Hebei Province for fitness training. Those teams with the mission of training and competing abroad would depart as early as possible and keep their stay abroad as long as they could.
Chinese athletes achieved some favorable results at the World Championships or World Cups in short track speed skating, speed skating, figure skating, snowboard halfpipe, freeski halfpipe, and slopestyle, also witnessing breakthroughs in some events.
The 17-year-old sensation Gu Ailing (Eileen Gu), who has attracted great attention in recent years, closed out last year's World Cup by winning the halfpipe and slopestyle competitions on back-to-back days in Calgary, Canada, becoming the first freeski World Cup athlete to accomplish the two-events-in-two-days double.
Chinese teams commenced their isolated training following the conclusion of last season's competitions, which focused on specialized training and fitness training.
After the World Short Track Speed Skating Championships, originally scheduled for March in Seoul, South Korea, could not be staged as planned, Chinese short track speed skating and speed skating teams hosted a scrimmage to test the teams' performance during their isolated training.
Chinese winter sports teams' preparation is moving forward while maintaining its ground against uncertainties caused by the pandemic, with stringent measures on team management.
The Winter Sports Management Center formulated principles in establishing teams, including fitness, anti-doping, fiscal, and foreign affairs management.
All teams are required to arrange a fitness test before their formation and layout specific requirements for each athlete based on their performance. Athletes need to conduct another test following the conclusion of fitness training before joining the teams. Those who fail can take another round of tests but cannot join if they fail again.
In July, 30 teams conducted a fitness test competition at 12 venues across the country via video link to find their weaknesses and figure out solutions.
As for anti-doping measures, teams cannot be established without providing information concerning athletes and aid staff's background, signing anti-doping protocols, specifying anti-doping duties, or conducting medical inspection and medical precautions when training abroad.
To reinforce collaboration with the International Sports Federations, China's Winter Sports Management Center held video conferences with the World Curling Federation, the International Luge Federation, and the International Skating Union (ISU) in August, shedding light on Beijing 2022 preparation, the event calendar and the sustainable development of winter sports in China.
READY FOR SPRINT
The Chinese figure skating team has been training behind closed doors since the cancelation of the World Championships scheduled for March.
As the first international event held in China since the outbreak of COVID-19, the ISU Grand Prix Cup of China was held in Chongqing in November. The competition was limited to domestic athletes because of travel restrictions. The Chinese team deemed it a great opportunity to gauge the progress of the skaters.
"I think some of our skaters have made big progress," said the team's head coach Zhao Hongbo. "Our preparation for the 2022 Olympic Games is on pace. Although the pandemic forced us to change some training and competition plans, it didn't have much impact on our preparation."
Two-time men's world bronze medalist Jin Boyang brought two new programs to the tournament and won the title with 290.89 points, which left Zhao very satisfied.
"Jin made a big improvement in his physical fitness. He trained hard in Sanya, and now he jumped much higher and more steadily," Zhao noted.
Two-time world champion pair figure skaters Sui Wenjing and Han Cong were absent from the competition as Han is recovering from hip surgery while remaining confident for the Games.
"The most important thing for me is to get rid of injury first and gravity next. Higher and further is our goal," said Sui. "We need to improve the quality of our moves. What matters more, though, is to stay away from injuries to make it to the Olympics."
To test the effect of fitness training, a scrimmage was held for Chinese winter sports teams across eight events, including curling, freestyle aerials, and freestyle moguls in October.
Following her strong performance at the end of last season, Gu kicked off her 2020/21 World Cup campaign with a third-place finish in Stubai, Austria, in November.
Besides her progress on an international stage, Gu is also recognized for her scholarly performance. She recently received an offer from Stanford University, which allowed her to realize her dream. Finishing her high school courses one year ahead of schedule, Gu has more time for her Beijing 2022 preparation.
2021 is defined as the year of the "sprint" in the Beijing 2022 preparation cycle, and Chinese athletes are seizing every moment to achieve excellence in just over 400 days. Enditem