Sprinter joins Chinese skeleton team, eyes Beijing 2022
Zhang Peimeng competes in the men's 4x100m final at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing on August 29, 2015. [File Photo: Xinhua/Yue Yuewei]
Former sprinter Zhang Peimeng took a first step toward fulfilling a tremendous Olympic dream by joining China's national skeleton team, hoping to secure a ticket to the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games.
"I want to compete in both the Summer and Winter Olympic Games," said Zhang, "it's my dream."
Zhang has attended three Summer Olympic Games since 2008, and finished the fourth in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games together with his teammates Su Bingtian, Xie Zhenye and Wu Zhiqiang in the men's 4x100m relay.
As the first Chinese who was able to touch the 10-second barrier in the men's 100 meters, Zhang bid farewell to the track with a gold medal in the 4x100m relay together with his teammates at the National Games last September.
When the Chinese delegation for PyeongChang Olympic Games was set on Wednesday, the 30-year-old Zhang accepted the invitation from Gou Zhongwen, director of China's General Administration of Sport to become a winter sports participant.
"I had thought about turning to winter sports before my retirement from the track, and I have considered other disciplines before the skeleton," Zhang said.
Zhang wanted to make use of his speed advantage in considering which sports to compete in, and his first choice was 2-man bobsleigh, but the heavy weight of the racing sleigh made Zhang reconsider.
"I was told to gain at least 20 kilograms of weight, otherwise I would not be able to push the sleigh forward," said the 78-kilogram Zhang.
Zhang's parents, who were both brilliant athletes, were supportive their son's choice, but implored him to pick a safer one.
"My mother wants me to consider curling, which is gentle and safe. When skeleton was put on the table, she was strongly against it."
After persuading his parents, Zhang then had to overcome his own fears and worries.
"Skeleton needs the athlete to slide down a frozen track while lying face down, which seems dangerous to me," Zhang said, adding that even a roller coaster ride would make him nervous.
While being asked how he planned to overcome these fears, Zhang hesitated and said: "It is a must-do for my Olympic dream, and practice makes perfection."
Zhang made his Olympic debut in 21.06 seconds in the men's first 200m heat at the "Bird's Nest" National Stadium in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, failing to qualify for the next round. Zhang's wish right now is to make it to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games.
"If I can book a spot in the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games, it will be a tremendous and historic moment, especially since I may compete in both the Summer and Winter Olympic Games in my hometown."
Zhang tried out the skeleton training site in PyeongChang last December and found it quite interesting.
"I had some deep communication with high-level coaches and athletes to discuss the future development if I turn to skeleton. They all suggested I should take advantage of my speed and give it a shot.
"I think it is a good thing that many Chinese people pay attention to minority winter events like this, and I hope I can contribute for the popularity of winter sports in China," Zhang added.
The Chinese skeleton team was formed in 2015 and took part in the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation World Cup for the first time in November 2017. China's most successful slider Geng Wenqiang has secured one spot in the men's skeleton team heading to the PyeongChang Winter Games.
Gou suggested Zhang to pay a visit in PyeongChang during the Winter Olympic Games to get a feel for the atmosphere there.
"As there's no frozen track for skeleton in China yet, I will begin my training together with my teammates abroad after the PyeongChang Olympic Games. Right now I'm training with Tsinghua University's track and field team to maintain fitness," he said.
"I wish to become a cornerstone of China's national skeleton team, just as I did in the national track and field team before, I hope to give all to skeleton and contribute my strength to the popularity of winter sports in China, regardless of whether or not I can achieve good results in the future," Zhang concluded.