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Sky's the limit for prodigy Patti

Twelve-year-old looks destined for stardom after sensational National Winter Games debut

Updated: 2024-02-19 09:22
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'Patti' Zhou Yizhu performs a rotation during Saturday's snowboard halfpipe final at the 14th National Winter Games in Hulunbuir, Inner Mongolia autonomous region. The 12-year-old finished fifth in the rankings. XINHUA

Twelve-year-old Zhou Yizhu, aka Patti Zhou, is the talk of China's 14th National Winter Games after making a captivating debut in the adult category snowboard halfpipe final.

Competing against athletes more than twice her age, Zhou's performances have thrilled China's snowboarding community and led many to speculate that she could become the next big sensation in the sport, akin to stars like Gu Ailing (Eileen Gu) and Su Yiming.

Zhou finished fifth in Saturday's final, showcasing an abundance of confidence and skill against world champions Cai Xuetong and Liu Jiayu, who claimed gold and silver respectively.

"My ultimate goal is to become an Olympic champion," Zhou said after her highly promising debut.

She draws inspiration from her father's unswerving support, and admires athletes such as Gu, Su, and Japanese snowboarder Ayumu Hirano, who won a silver medal as a 15-year-old at the Sochi Winter Olympics and later won gold at Beijing 2022.

"I'm drawn to a more masculine style, more powerful. I hope my style is as stylish as Ayumu Hirano's," she said.

Describing her approach to the sport, Zhou quoted a line from China's Tang Dynasty poet Li Bai: "Flowing down three thousand feet, as if the Milky Way falls from the ninth heaven."

Clearly of a romantic disposition, Zhou views snowboarding as a sport with an inherent spiritual connection to nature.

"Although I'm just cruising down the slopes, when you ask me why I ride well, I'd say I feel that skiing connects me with nature, and the mountains give me a unique strength," she explained.

Beyond snowboarding, Zhou has also made a name for herself in surfing, finding parallels between the two sports.

"Surfing and snowboarding feel very alike; you can fly, and the sensation of flying is amazing. For me, the similarity between these two sports is that I can communicate with nature through them. Surfing is about communicating with the ocean, and snowboarding is about connecting with the mountains," she said.

"In these sports where I communicate with nature, I feel incredibly free."

Patti's whimsical side extends to naming animals she encounters on the slopes after her favorite snowboarders.

From a tall deer named after Australian Scotty James to a curious crow named after Hirano, and a bouncing squirrel named after two-time Olympic silver medalist Danny Kass.

"I love snowboarding; it's my life. My dream is to travel the world with my snowboard and surfboard," she declared.

Patti's father, Zhou Zhiguo believes that her advantage over many Chinese snowboarders lies in her constant curiosity and joy in snowboarding — qualities he hopes she continues to maintain.

"I dream of my daughter winning an Olympic gold medal, but as we all know, it's very difficult. So, I don't have specific expectations for her achievements in the snowboarding field," said Zhou Zhiguo.

"In fact, we didn't deliberately follow the paths of Su Yiming or Gu Ailing's success, and such paths are difficult to replicate," he added.

"When I encountered Su Yiming for the first time, he was 12 years old and nobody imagined the boy would become an Olympic gold medalist. I think this kind of relative obscurity has protected him, allowing him to maintain curiosity and happiness in snowboarding."

Now thrust into the limelight of competitive sports, Zhou Yizhu is on the path to potentially becoming China's next snowboarding icon. Her father is excited and cautious in equal measure about the journey that awaits her.

"I believe this is a test for Patti. Ultimately, it will help her find the person she wants to become," said Zhou Zhiguo.

"But when she steps into the spotlight at such a young age, how to maintain her original intentions for snowboarding is indeed a complex question.

"I am closely observing many successful athlete cases, and I will discuss my analysis of their growth paths with Patti.

"I won't say that I am shaping my daughter. In fact, I don't have the ability or resources for that. I'm just accompanying her on this journey."

Participating in the National Winter Games for the first time, Zhou Yizhu expressed her curiosity about Inner Mongolia, and was keen to explore the yurts found near the competition site.

She also praised the deliciousness of the local beef and lamb.

Coinciding with Spring Festival, she described this edition of the National Winter Games as a special Lunar New Year experience.

"I initially wanted to celebrate the new year with my grandparents, but participating in this competition has its benefits," she said.


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