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Skiers return with golden bounty
(China Daily)
Updated: 2005-03-23 09:00

China's freestyle skiing aerials team returned to Beijing from their World Championships in Ruka, Finland yesterday with a gold medal.

They brought back not only China's first ever world championships gold medal, but also golden hopes for next year's Turin Winter Olympic Games.

"The gold medal earned by Li Nina could be called a milestone in the history of China's freestyle skiing," said Gao Xuedong, director of Skiing Department of China's Winter Sports Administrative Centre.

22-year-old Li, who finished fifth at 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games, dominated the World Cup for the entire season by winning half of the total 12 stops, and topped the final rankings with over 400 points difference to Australia's Lydia Ierodiaconouh, one of the rivals of Chinese skiers in aerials.

Several days later, she pocketed the world championships gold medal for the first time and her teammate Guo Xinxin won bronze.

"Li's both titles in this season's World Cup tournament and World Championships earned us freestyle skiers a great deal of confidence for the coming Winter Olympics," Gao added.

He said the soaring Chinese skiers this season should attribute their success to the new training methods and helps of foreign coaches.

In 1998 Nagano Winter Olympic Games, Xu Nannan claimed China its first ever Olympic medal by winning the silver of the women's aerials. While with the injury of Xu, China had to accept another medal blank four years later in the Salt Lake City, which was even followed by a severe failure season in 2003/04.

"Because of so much injuries among our talented skiers, such as Xu and world cup winners Wang Jiao and men's veteran Ou Xiaotao, the aerials team experienced a low tide last season," said Gao. "Being afraid of injuries, the skiers were very conservative in the trainings and competitions, so few good results were achieved then."

After a stamina coach was invited in the latter half of last year, the situation has improved.

"The aerials is a very dangerous event and we found that lacking plentiful physical strength is the weakest point among our skiers," Gao said. "The Canadian stamina coach has given us new training methods, such as emphasizing more on the warming-up step and putting much more attention on specific physical parts.

"Training with him for about half a year, the injuries decreased much, which secured our success this season."

Besides stamina, a Canadian techniques coach has also been working with the team from last December.

"The Canadian coach changed our traditional way of technical training, which contained only dull practicing. Some form-adjusting added and the achievements from the season could prove it success," Gao said.

"The new coach helped me a lot with the specific techniques, which improved my confidence even more," said Li after winning the world champion title.

Despite the convincing results recently, officials are still cautious about the certainty of an Olympic gold medal.

"We should admit that our good results were achieved with the absence of injured Alisa Camplin, the 2002 Winter Olympic Games gold medallist," said Gao. "Although Ierodiaconouh was also not in her usual good form this season, she still has the higher difficulty of degree than Li."

With a difficult rating of 7.10, Li reigned the aerials platform with stable performance, but the ratings of 7.30 or even higher from Ierodiaconouh and other foreign skiers are big threats to Li's Olympic gold dream.

"Li will try to raise her rating to about 7.50 to secure a winning chance at Turin," said Gao. "Together with Guo, whose difficult degree is among the top three in the world, we are confident we can go for the Olympic gold."

However, the men's side is still worrying officials. "Due to a lack of confidence, the men's skiers always fell to nowhere in important events, such as disqualification for the finals in this championships," said Gao. "With the recovery of veteran Ou, we hope they could get satisfactory results during Olympics."

As Xu and Wang have also come back to the team, a fighting team combined with veterans and young hopefuls will vie for a Turin success in the remaining one year.

"We will secure safety in future trainings and then try our best to fulfill the gold task in Turin Olympic Games," Gao added.

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