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China's evergreen halfpipe heroes hit the heights

By SUN XIAOCHEN | China Daily | Updated: 2023-12-11 13:21
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China's Cai Xuetong performs on their way to clinching the top two spots in the FIS women's snowboard halfpipe World Cup at Genting Snow Park in Chongli, Hebei province, on Friday. [FU TIAN/CHINA NEWS SERVICE]

With plenty of tricks up their sleeves and still some extra potential to tap into, China's veteran halfpipe snowboarders Cai Xuetong and Liu Jiayu have redefined longevity in the sport with their home World Cup heroics.

Four world championship triumphs, 25 World Cup wins, eight overall season titles over 16 years and counting — Cai and Liu's combined career accolades have enshrined them in the sport's history. Yet the prolific pair have refused to rest on their laurels, with a record fifth Olympics campaign on the horizon.

In a sport that demands exceptional athleticism, Cai and Liu have remarkably remained top contenders into their 30s, securing a one-two finish at the 2023-24 halfpipe World Cup season's opening leg at Genting Resort in Zhangjiakou, Hebei province last week.

Roared on by a boisterous home crowd at the Olympic venue, Cai took full advantage of the perfectly cut pipe to land a succession of dazzling tricks, scoring 93.25 points from her third run in Friday's final to beat a field that included Beijing 2022's silver and bronze medalists — Spanish veteran Queralt Castellet and Japan's Sena Tomita.

Already leading after the first two runs, Cai stepped it up anyway in her last attempt, leading off with a massive frontside 900-degree trick, into a backside 540 with weddle grab, followed by a big air-to-fakie and a clean cab 720 before wrapping it up perfectly with a stylish alley-oop backside rodeo 540 to clinch her 14th career World Cup win.

The home victory earned Cai redemption from her disappointment at Beijing 2022, where she finished fourth to miss out on a medal at her fourth Winter Olympics.

"I came back here going for gold this time, so I am so emotional that I finally stepped on the top podium here," said Cai, 30, whose tearful post-final interview at Beijing 2022 made for heartbreaking viewing for Chinese fans.

"Riding on the same pipe with the same perfect conditions, I am in a different mood now though (compared to the Olympics). I am just enjoying the moment," said the three-time world championships winner, who bagged her first World Cup medal in 2010.

"I am not young anymore. I will take one step at a time without setting my sights too far. I won't set any exact goals for the next Olympics at the moment, but I won't give it up just yet for sure."

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