Skiers race to fame under foreign coaches

Updated: 2007-02-02 08:48

A hug with smile over the face after the victory is the expectation of Swedish Per-Eric Ronnestrand, coach of the Chinese cross-country team, at the sixth Asian Winter Games.

And Wang Chunli made it after she won the cross-country skiing women's sprint free on Tuesday, by 0.09 seconds ahead of Yelena Kolomina from Kazakhstan.

That's the way Ronnestrand always expects from his Chinese protegee when they are on snow: open-minded, enthusiastic and eager to win.

"Chinese athletes are easy to stay with. We exchange ideas all the time. We are more than coach and athlete, that's the start for improvement," said Ronnestrand, who took over the Chinese team only one year ago.

And they really started to improve and made a historical breakthrough so quickly as the sprint title was the first ever individual cross-country gold won by China in the Asian Winter Games.

But Ronnestrand, 43, will certainly look forward to a bigger success.

"Wang is hard-working and strong-minded. If she keeps working in the next three years, she will possibly win the gold medal in the 2010 Olympic Games," said the joyful Swede, who hopes to renew his contract which runs till the end of 2007.

China's Wang Chunli (4) competes during the women's Cross-Country Skiing Finals at the Sixth Asian Winter Games in Jilin, northeastern China's Jilin Province, January 30, 2007.[Reuters]
"And China should also work on the women's relay (for the Vancouver Winter Olympics), because we have a handful of promising stars like Li Hongxue, Liu Yuanyuan and Man Dandan," the ambitious Swede said of his goal.

"You need to begin somewhere. I never wake up with nothing in my mind. What I usually do is to figure out a plan and try to make it happen. Most of the people would say it is a chance in a million but I never lose my target easily.

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"I know Chinese skiers are still lagging behind the world's top athletes, but they are now on the up and up in the international skiing field. Besides, if you want to hit the mark, you need to set a tough goal."

Compared to an optimistic Ronnestrand, Klaus Siebert, head coach of the Chinese biathlon team, is more down-to-earth. However, both foreign coaches have one thing in common at least: they are easy-going and willing to be treated like bosom friends instead of strict coaches.

Liu Xianying embraced the 52-year-old German in front of her husband, a rare gesture in China, after she crossed the finish line first in the women's 15km individual race on Thursday.

"I am so grateful to Siebert, he really helps me in all respects," the 30-year-old veteran explained at the press conference. "My husband is understanding."

Kong Yingchao, winner of the women's 10km pursuit event at the Winter Asiad, described Siebert as a humorous and accommodating person whom all the athletes expect to stay with the Chinese team till the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

The Chinese women biathletes surprised some favorites at the Asian Winter Games by winning three gold medals, with Liu and Kong splitting the gold and silver medals between themselves all the time.

And China would make a clean sweep of the women's events if they take the 4x6km relay on Friday.

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