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Riding 'Great Wall' to Olympic glory

By SUN XIAOCHEN | China Daily | Updated: 2018-12-25 09:24
A snowboarder im Sprung model. [Photo/IC]

2022 Games' new slopestyle course is landmark feat in more ways than one

The world's best freestyle skiers and snowboarders will have to conquer the 'Great Wall' if they are to ride to glory at the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Last week, the Games' slopestyle course made an impressive debut at a World Cup event in Genting Resort, Zhangjiakou, with one uniquely Chinese feature proving a big hit with competitors.

After first negotiating a series of rails and jumps, riders must then take on a 'Great Wall' section, inspired by and designed like the nation's world-famous architectural wonder, before finishing off with three more big jumps.

"Being the first Olympic-standard slopestyle course in China, it rides really well," said American boarder Ryan Stassel, who finished sixth at the Cup event.

"The Great Wall element lights up the fifth feature, which is a rail drop. It's a pivotal part of the course so you have to be really focused to land, but it looks pretty cool flying over the walls."

In slopestyle, skiers or snowboarders ride down a course using a variety of obstacles to perform tricks to earn points for amplitude (height), creativity and quality.

Having shaped the slope course for the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, German company Schneestern together with local staff decided to bring more of a local flavor to the 2022 Games.

Last week's World Cup stop was the first time Genting has hosted an international slopestyle event, and it wasn't just the novelty of the Great Wall section that had the snowboarders singing the course's praises.

"There are a lot of different options for the rails which are really cool. It allows us to express ourselves and be creative," said Japan's Takeru Otsuka, who topped the men's 30-strong field on Friday after a typically stylish performance packed full of spins and flips.

His compatriot Miyabi Onitsuka, the 2015 world champion, won the women's competition after stomping the only 900 trick (two and a half rotations) off the third jump in the final.

Two Chinese girls, Li Dongyu and Wang Xuemei, made it to the top-six final round but brought up the rear thanks to errors on their last runs. No Chinese qualified for the men's 10-rider final.

Li Yang, manager of China's snowboarding team, said having to travel overseas for training has hampered the nation's freestylers, so the opening of the new course at Genting is a welcome development.

"The operation of the new slopestyle course at Genting will provide much longer on-snow training hours than we had before and should accelerate our efforts to catch up with the world's best," said Li.

Stassel, a two-time Winter Olympian and the 2015 slopestyle world champion, concurred and urged new Chinese talent to aim high and take risks.

"The advice I can give is to give it your all every single time. There is no reason to play safe, otherwise you almost hinder your riding ability," said the 26-year-old from Anchorage, Alaska.

Further work is now planned on the new course, with Dirk Scheumann, CEO of Schneestern, revealing that it is not 100 percent ready for the 2022 Games.

"Starting from next year we want to develop more of those features connected to the Great Wall," said the former professional freestyle skier.

"The idea is to have the wall run for 200 meters from its starting point to the first jump.

"It's great to have something connected to China and new to the world, which entertains people a little bit more. It's not just about meeting technical requirements, it's also a kind of art."

The relative lack of snowfall in the Chongli district of Zhangjiakou has sparked concerns as to Genting's suitability to host the freestyle skiing and snowboarding events at the Olympics.

Scheumann, however, said that the dry, extra-cold conditions had made it possible to construct such a unique course.

"What we are doing here is super special. The temperature is cold but stays stable," said Scheumann, who worked with his crew in temperatures as low as minus-30 degrees Celsius.

"It's not snowing so much so we can do the artistic stuff like building the walls. We could never do that in Austria or Switzerland where it snows a lot and melts quickly.

"It's a super great chance for China to use the advantages of this climate. Unlike some people who are worried it's not snowing enough, I said it's cool. If you build something and it stays solid, you can do the arty stuff to show the world something really unique."

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