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China's medal momentum bodes well for 2022 targets

2020-01-02 14:45:00 chinadaily

With the Beijing Winter Olympics just two years away, Chinese athletes spared no effort over the past 12 months to build momentum for a strong home performance in 2022.

Impressive results on the ice and snow suggest China's hopes of qualifying for all 109 events at the Games and beating its previous best gold-medal haul (five in Vancouver 2010) may not be too ambitious after all.

Leading the charge is China's traditionally strong short-track speed skating team, which has contributed 10 out of 13 gold medals won by China since the country's Winter Olympics debut in 1980 at Lake Placid, New York.

Led by a reshuffled coaching staff overseen by four-time Olympic champion skater Wang Meng, China's short-track squad has won eight gold, six silver and seven bronze medals at the past four legs (Salt Lake City, Montreal, Nagoya and Shanghai) on the International Skating Union's 2019-20 World Cup series.

Wang, who won four golds at two Olympics (2006 and 2010), was appointed in May as manager of a merged national speed skating team consisting of the short-and long-track squads, which had previously been separate entities.

Wang's arrival ended the 13-year tenure of her former coach Li Yan at the helm of the short-track team after the squad finished the 2018-19 season without a single gold at major events.

A group of international experts, including South Korea's short-track specialist Kim Sun-tae, Canada's former men's short-track coach Derrick Campbell and long-track trainer Rutger Tijssen of the Netherlands, have been hired to assist Wang.

The resurgence of veterans Fan Kexin and Han Tianyu, who claimed golds in the women's 500m and men's 1000m respectively at the World Cup's Shanghai stop last month, has proven the new coaching staff effective.

Having also won silver in the men's 1500m in Shanghai, Han made a strong return to Olympic gold contention after taking a year off from skating to get married and start a family.

In figure skating, two-time world champion pair Sui Wenjing and Han Cong won their first ISU Grand Prix final with a high-difficulty routine in Turin, Italy, in early December, showing red-hot form on their quest to win a third world championship gold in Montreal in March.

Hampered by a foot injury to Sui, the Chinese pair had to settle for silver at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea behind Germany's Bruno Massot and Aliona Savchenko.

The Chinese duo's goal for Beijing 2022 is to top the podium and emulate retired husband-and-wife pair Zhao Hongbo and Shen Xue's gold at the 2010 Games in Vancouver.

However, Zhao, now head coach of China's figure skating team, is endeavoring to keep expectations in check.

"We are making progress, but we are far from becoming a major force in the world with our men's, women's and ice dancing skaters all struggling to catch up with the world's best," he said.

Compared to the ice events, China is still taking baby steps in the majority of snow sports-with the exceptions of freestyle skiing and snowboarding.

The snowboard halfpipe team and freeski aerials squad have maintained their competitiveness this season, highlighted by multiple podium finishes in the 2019-20 World Cup series.

Liu Jiayu and Cai Xuetong thrilled home fans by winning gold and silver respectively at the Chongli leg of the snowboard halfpipe World Cup series last month, while Xu Mengtao and Qi Guangpu claimed the women's and men's titles at the freeski aerials World Cup meet in Changchun on the same weekend.

Other notable breakthroughs for Chinese athletes last year included 20-year-old speed skater Ning Zhongyan's victory in the long-track men's 1500m at a World Cup event in Kazakhstan on Dec 8, and female bobsled pilot Ying Qing's gold medal in the third race of the 2019-20 single-race monobob series in Germany on Dec 19.

Both wins were firsts for China in international competition.

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