Sports / China

Winter sports heat up in Jilin's capital

By Erik Nilsson in Changchun (China Daily) Updated: 2015-01-01 07:53

Jilin's provincial capital Changchun is proving the cold is cool and winter sports are hot in China.

The city is ringing in the New Year with the long-distance Vasaloppet race.

And insiders say much has changed in the 13 years Changchun has hosted the event, especially since China became an associate member of the Worldloppet this summer.

The Worldloppet hosts one respective race in 20 countries every year. There were eight members when the organization was founded in 1988.

"I've followed (Changchun's) Vasaloppet for many years, and it's growing every year," said co-founder Bengt-Erik Bengtsson, who has visited almost every year for the past decade.

"(Changchun) means very much for the Vasaloppet, and more people will come here," Bengtsson said.

"There are many more countries participating now. It has become much more international."

He pointed out there are many Russian and Japanese skiers, and expected more Koreans in coming years.

"It's easier for people to go around the world than before," Bengtsson said.

Youth participation is something that has matured over the years, he said.

"The students coming here from the beginning have taken up skiing, and more of these students are now showing their own skills."

He is optimistic about the event's future in Changchun.

"It will be more developed," he said.

Worldloppet's secretary-general Angelo Corradini said: "My wish for the Chinese Vasaloppet is to grow very fast and reach full Worldloppet membership."

This requires at least 1,000 skiers to complete the 90-kilometer race. The organization this summer for the first time added four associate members that did not meet that criterion but staged major Vasaloppet festivals, including Iceland, Argentina and New Zealand.

"We feel the most enthusiastic race among the new members is China's. It's enormous," Corradini said.

Changchun sent eight, rather than four, delegates to the congress in June, he pointed out.

"There are flags from all over the world. It takes a lot of organization to put those up," Corradini said.

"I hope China can get 1,000 skiers to finish the long-distance race. I think it's not far away. With more than 1 billion inhabitants, it shouldn't be a problem."

He believed it will take China two years at most to reach the 1,000-mark.

About 2,000 people will participate this year, including amateurs, students and first-timers, who will try to at least surpass 2 km.

Bengtsson pointed to increased local participation as well as internationalization as the event grows.

This year, about 100 of the roughly 480 skiers who plan to finish the long-distance race are Chinese. The rest hail from 33 countries.

China's full Worldloppet membership will, in turn, accelerate development, Bengtsson believed.

If you're a member of the Worldloppet, it will attract more people. Neighboring countries' interest will be there."

Up to 135,000 skiers a year join the races worldwide.

Bengtsson believed the event's success will continue to increase interest in other winter sports in China.

"There's such an interest in ice skating here," he said.

"It's incredible. And (China is) such a leading country in ice skating."

He said Changchun has a natural advantage as a winter sports' hub.

"If you were looking at newspapers today or a week ago, there was a crisis in winter sports worldwide (there was) no snow," he said.

Europe, in particular, did not have enough snow or the weather to stabilize artificial snow.

"But in Changchun, you're sure to have snow."


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