Han stokes China's hopes

Updated: 2014-02-12 07:10:04

( China Daily) Lei Lei in Sochi, Russia

Han stokes China's hopes

Teenage speed skater's silver medal boosts confidence of entire team

The Chinese short track speed skating team got off to a good start at the Sochi Winter Olympics on Monday with an unexpected silver in the men's 1,500m.

Three weeks before the start of the Games, China's most decorated Winter Olympian, Wang Meng, severely injured her ankle and had to withdraw from the competition, which cast a huge shadow over the team's medal hopes.

But Team China refused to buckle and, on the first day of competition in the sport, 17-year-old Han Tianyu claimed silver in two minutes, 15.055 seconds, behind world No 1, Canada's Charles Hamelin.

It was also the first medal for the Chinese delegation at the Sochi Games.

On the women's side, all three skaters reached the second round of the 500m event, a race China has dominated for a long time.

The women's relay team also qualified for the final.

"Our team is always a united one, no matter who is injured. We bring his or her power with us into the competition," said Fan Kexin after the first round of the women's 500m.

In the wake of Wang's injury, Fan is considered the team's best hope for gold after the 20-year-old finished second in the overall World Cup standings.

She was also the only Chinese woman other than Wang to win a 500m World Cup event this season.

"This is my first Olympic Games and I will consider each round as a final," said Fan.

"No matter who is competing, we will try to achieve the goal (of winning gold)."

The women's 500m final is on Thursday. Fan and teammates Li Jianrou and Liu Qiuhong will strive for the highest place on the podium after their male counterparts got the team off to a good start.

Han relegated Victor An of Russia, the former Olympic and world champion in the event, to third place by 0.07 sec.

"It's my first Olympic Winter Games and I was a little bit nervous," Han said.

"I never thought I could make it to the finals, let alone stand on the podium. I took every round as my final, and tried my best to compete. Now I feel very proud to have the national flag on my back. The silver has boosted my confidence a lot."

Despite being somewhat in the shadow of the dominant women's team in short track, China's men also have a strong history in the event.

Han stokes China's hopes

Li Jiajun claimed silver in the 1,500m at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games and a bronze four years later in Turin. After Li's retirement, the team went into decline with only Liang Wenhao claiming the 500m gold medal at the World Championships in 2010 and 2013.

The long-distance events had been a continual struggle until Han's silver.

"We were always seeking a breakthrough in recent years (over the longer men's races)," said head coach Li Yan, who led the Chinese team that swept all four women's gold medals at the Vancouver Winter Olympics four years ago.

"What we achieved today is the result of the daily efforts of our athletes," she said.

Han started his sporting career as a roller skater. The turning point came in 2006, when he started training for short track speed skating, following in the tracks of world champion Liang, who is four years older than Han and used to practice roller skating with him.

Han soon showed his talent and won gold in the 1,500m at the 2012 World Junior Championships in Melbourne, Australia.

"Han did not act his age as he showed stability and confidence in the competition," Li said. "I'm so happy for him."

Han's medal has inspired the team, but the head coach remains cautious about the remainder of the competition at Sochi.

"No matter what happens, we will adjust to perform at our best," said Li.

"For the team, the most important thing is to prepare ourselves well, not beat ourselves, and try to get better on the track."