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Four-wheeled fun zooms into view

By SUN XIAOCHEN | China Daily | Updated: 2019-07-11 09:08
Kristian Ankersen (R) of Norway and Jostein Olafsen of Norway react after the Men's 200m finals Sprint Final of 2019 FIS Rollerski World Cup Beijingat Beijing Olympic Park in Beijing, China on July 5, 2019. [Photo/VCG]

Fitness-based training sport wins new fans, charms public during exciting World Cup debut in China

If you're looking for a new way to freshen up your fitness routine, the four-wheeled fun of roller skiing might be just the thing.

The sport, a summer training staple, zoomed into the spotlight at its World Cup series opener in Beijing's Olympic Park last week and was an instant hit.

After witnessing a surprise Chinese victory in one of the professional races at the three-day International Ski Federation meet, an intrigued public took part in an open race for amateurs, which was predictably packed with plenty of laughs... not to mention stumbles.

Organizers are confident the sport will catch on among urbanites.

"It's a great way to encourage more people to try winter sports and eventually realize the goal of having 300 million Chinese involved in ice and snow exercise activities leading up to the 2022 Winter Olympics," said Ding Dong, executive deputy director of the National Winter Sports Administrative Center.

Wang Qiang broke Scandinavian supremacy at the meet by finishing first in the men's 22.7km.

His unexpected victory, China's first FIS World Cup roller skiing title, was welcome news for government efforts to boost grassroots participation in winter sports ahead of the 2022 Beijing Olympics.

Roller skiing's accessibility-equipment is relatively cheap, and the sport can be enjoyed on any hard surface and by all age groups-fits China's ambition to expand participation in winter sports even in the nation's snowless southern territories, Ding added.

Long practiced by a handful of Chinese professional skiers as part of their summer training, roller skiing first grabbed the public's attention last July at an amateur race on the hot and dry highlands around Baiyin in Gansu province.

Eleven cities have been selected by the winter sports authorities as part of a pilot program to offer training and equipment to the public, especially in schools, facilitated by Norwegian ski wax producer Swix.

Plans are afoot to add another 29 cities in the future.

"Skiing in general is a technically challenging sport to learn, but on roller skis it's much easier to learn the basics in a safer and more cost-effective way," said Ni Shoujun, deputy secretary general of the Beijing Skiing Association.

"We had first-time learners of all ages, from 9 to 60, who managed to roll on the track during the open session. It speaks volumes."

Jilin city, a skiing destination in Northeast China's Jilin province, has added roller skiing to physical education curricula in 30 primary and secondary schools, involving more than 10,000 children.

"It helps lay the foundation in quantity and we believe it can translate into quality when we draft junior talent for the elite program in the near future," said Tian Haiyan, vice-president of Jilin Municipal Sports School.

China's growing interest in cross-country skiing has impressed some of the best in the sport.

Norway's three-time Olympic champion Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo, who won the 200m and 1.5km sprints at the World Cup meet, hailed Beijing's effort to introduce the warm-weather training method to the masses.

"I think it sends a good message that this sport can be for anyone," said the 22-year-old, who won three gold medals (1.4km classic sprint, 4x10km relay and team sprint) at last year's Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea.

"I think it's important to see that it's good for people's health-not necessarily competing, but just viewing it as an exercise. It's important to bring this concept to China."

Klaebo also hailed his win in Beijing as an important stepping stone in his bid for more Olympic glory at the 2022 Games in the mountains around co-host city of Zhangjiakou, Hebei province.

"I hope this race helps prepare me for the 2022 Winter Olympics. For sure I am going to do what I can to push my limits in 2022 and probably come home with more of these," Klaebo said while holding his World Cup golds.

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