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Chinese athletes in final sprint ahead of one-year Beijing 2022 countdown

Xinhua | Updated: 2021-02-02 14:13
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BEIJING - With just one year to go until the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games, Chinese athletes' preparations are in full swing.

A perennial powerhouse in summer sports, China has never been dominant at the winter Olympics, only once finishing in the top 10, at Vancouver in 2010, and placing a lowly 16th at the last edition at PyeongChang in 2018 with just one gold.

The host nation of Beijing 2022 has vowed for full participation in all 109 events and a best-ever performance in the history of the Winter Olympics.

Daunting as the challenges that loom ahead are, there are reasons for the hosts' optimism about their 2022 prospects.

Eileen Gu, also known by her Chinese name Gu Ailing, stunned the Freeski world with two golds in women's ski Superpipe and slopestyle, and a bronze in the ski Big Air last weekend at the 20th Aspen X-Games.

In a stunning breakout effort, the teenager became the first Chinese athlete to top the podium in the history of the extreme sport, the first rookie to win X-Games gold, and the fourth athlete in X-Games history to win three medals in one event.

Besides Gu's unprecedented feat, 16-year-old Su Yiming also attracted attention, becoming the first Chinese male snowboarder to finish the Cab 1800 (a switch frontside 1800 degrees), known as one of the most difficult snowboarding tricks.

Su said he will work harder to further improve his skills in Big Air and slopestyle competitions to make China proud at the Winter Olympics in 2022.

In freestyle aerials and snowboard halfpipe, where China has traditionally performed well, veterans Qi Guangpu and Xu Mengtao will carry the nation's hopes alongside young skiers like Yan Hao and Cai Xuetong.

Yan Hao, who used to be a trampoline athlete, finished the world's highest difficulty in the junior men's freestyle aerials pool competition last October.

In the snowboard halfpipe, Cai Xuetong has continued to make history, winning China's first title at the 2020 US Open, and also topping the women's overall World Cup standings after winning gold in the final 2019/20 FIS Snowboard Halfpipe World Cup event in Calgary.

Several newly-launched events are also developing well.

Geng Wenqiang ranked 11th out of 27 competitors at the opening race of the 2019/20 skeleton World Cup in Lake Placid, United States, marking the best ever result for Chinese skeleton athletes.

Zhao Dan, seen as one of the hopefuls for Beijing 2022, won 7th place in the women's race in her first world competition at the 2020 Winter Youth Olympic Games.

China's cross-country skiers also aim high. The 2020-2021 China cross-country skiing championships concluded last Friday in Baiyin city, in northwestern China's Gansu Province, which drew around 180 professional skiers from across the country.

National team manager Zhang Bei said that the national team will focus on athletes who show the best form and a competitive mindset in the following months ahead of the 2022 Olympics.

"After the championship, our team will continue digging for talents for the 2022 Winter Games," said Zhang.

China's previous best result in cross-country skiing came at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, where Li Hongxue finished 22nd place in the ladies' 30km mass start.

Zhang said the Chinese team is turning to high-tech facilities and advanced approaches in their preparations for the 2022 Winter Olympics. The wind tunnel is one of them. In addition, they are also tapping into overseas expertise with the recruitment of Russian coach Nikolai Dunkukov.

"We hope that Team China can make a breakthrough through in scientific training in long-distance events and women's relay in 2022," said Zhang.

Compared to the snow events, China has even more confidence on ice.

The figure skating team, which hit a peak at Vancouver 2010 when Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo clinched the pairs' title, now expects more at Beijing 2022.

Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, silver medalists at the 2018 PyeongChang Games and winners at the 2019 World Championships and 2020 Four Continents Championships, are no doubt China's top contenders for gold.

But the pair are racing against time as Han is recovering from hip surgery. They missed the Cup of China last November, the only international figure skating competition held in China this season.

"I know the coming year is going to be hard," said Sui on Tuesday, who is preparing for the World Championships in March. "But I hope I can deal with all the difficulties in life and training."

Chinese figure skaters delivered strong performances at the ISU Grand Prix Cup of China, which was an important test for the team to gauge the progress of the skaters and to prepare for the World Championships.

"I think some of our skaters have made big progress," said Zhao Hongbo. "Our preparation for the 2022 Olympic Games is right on track. Although the pandemic forced us to change some training and competition plans, it didn't have much impact on our preparation."

Peng Cheng and Jin Yang, runners-up at the Four Continents last year, and two-time world bronze medalist Jin Boyang all stand a chance for a podium finish at the Beijing Games.

Short-track speed skating has long been China's largest gold mine at the Winter Olympics, as 10 of the country's 13 gold medals were won in this discipline.

However, the Chinese team failed to win a single title at the 2019 World Championships.

As the 2020 World Championships was canceled due to the pandemic, China's next test will be at next month's Worlds in Dordrecht, the Netherlands.

The pandemic has made Olympic preparations more complicated as all teams have been forced to train behind closed doors.

Nevertheless, with just one year remaining, Chinese athletes are determined to achieve excellence at Beijing 2022.

"I hope all Chinese athletes can deliver their best level at the Beijing 2022 Winter Games, which is also my blessing for the Games," said Sui Wenjing.

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