Winter sports in China grow as young children inspired to hit the rink
Chinese figure skating pair Li Xiangning and Xiezhong from China's national team perform at the opening ceremony of 2018 Chinese figure skating interclub league in Beijing on June 30, 2018. [Photo: Dongchang /Tus ice&snow ]
The 2018 Chinese figure skating interclub league has wrapped up in Beijing. Hundreds of young children and senior citizens participated in the first leg of the tournament in the Chinese capital. Winter sports market in China has grown significantly in the past year thanks to such activities.
Tournament promotes future stars.
The tournament organized by China's figure skating association is aimed at sourcing young talents with the potential to become professional skaters for future winter Olympics as well as encouraging mass participation in winter games.
Eleven-year-old Song Zirui poses for a photo at Tus ice and snow sports center in Beijing on July 1, 2018. [Photo: China Plus/Malonsports]
Eleven-year-old Song Zirui ranked second during the group match. She's confident about her performance. "I'm quite satisfied with my performance. I hope the scores could help me get qualified for junior's game".
Zirui learned figure skating for more than five years with her best friends. She enjoys the game as it helps her become brave. However she has not planned to become a professional skater as she is concerned that strict training would upset her life balance.
China's former Olympian medalist pair Zhao Hongbo[L] and Shenxue [R]take photos with their five-year-old daughter Zhao Xuer[R] at Tus ice and snow sports center in Beijing on July 1, 2018. [Photo: China Plus/ Wangbo Malonsports ]
China's 2010 Olympic gold winning pair Zhao Hongbo and Shen Xue also appeared at the rink in the stadium. But this time, they showed up as cheerleaders for their five-year-old daughter who participated in the Mass Lady's single pre-juvenile free skating.
When asked about their daughter's performance, Zhao Hongbo said it was s not bad and hoped she could stay healthy and happy like other young participants through the ice game.
"Not bad, Xiaoxue only joined the game not long ago. She doesn't like taking a nap at noon so her grandparents sent her to figure skating. I didn't intend for her to learn this sport. This is the first time the figure skating association has organized the interclub league, and its main purpose is to help the kids foster an appreciation for the art of figure skating. Some of the participants are just four or five years old. I think such an event could help promote mass participation in winter sports, especially now, when China is in preparation to host the 2022 winter Olympic Games," Zhao said.
Zhao Hongbo and his skating partner and wife Shen Xue are China's best-known figure skaters. They are three-time world champions and are also the first Chinese pair skaters to win a medal at the Winter Olympic Games.
China's Shen Xue, right, kisses her gold medal as Zhao Hongbo, left, looks on, after they won the pairs free program figure skating competition at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, Monday, Feb. 15, 2010.[Photo:AP]
After retiring from competitive sports, the pair dedicated to delicate their time to promote ice sports.
Zhao became the head coach of China's national team of figure skating while Shen Xue is now chair of China's figure skating association. The association officially launched in January. China's renowned film director Zhang Yimou was appointed as the honorary president of the association. Zhang directed the eight-minute Beijing 2022 clip which was shown at the closing ceremony of the Pyeongchang Olympics.
The pair said, by holding such events they hope to encourage more young children to fall in love with the game while helping to pump up the talent pool for winter Olympics in the future.
Zhao stressed the necessity for holding such games.
"By participating in such an event, children could gain field-specific experience in a competitive environment after a period of routine training. When there is a match ahead, children will work hard at their training. I believe although there is still a long way to go, some of the young kids will one day grow to be key talents in the field," Zhao noted.
China's winter sports crowd grow.
In the past years, China has expressed the ambition to encourage around 300 million people, over 1/5 of the country's population, to participate in snow and ice sports, especially after winning the bid of 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.
Chinese fans for winter sports have been snowballing as more and more relevant events are taking place in the country such as NHL China game, China Cup figure skating GP, ISF snowboarding WC being hosted in China last winter.
A report by French winter sports brand Rossignol Group showed the winter sports market in China should reach 100 billion yuan or 13.7 billion Euros by 2025.
In order to encourage more Chinese to have access to snow and ice sports, local governments have built thousands of tentative sites all across China for fun-oriented snow and ice sports, attracting millions of participants last winter.
Wang Yuming (R) general manager of Beijing Hong'ao Sports & Culture Development Company attends the opening ceremony of 2018 Chinese figure skating interclub league in Beijing on June 30, 2018. [Photo: Dongchang /Tus ice&snow ]
Wang Yuming is general manager of Beijing Hong'ao Sports & Culture Development Company that co-hosts the interclub league. She said ice sports have huge potential for growth in Chinese market as more citizens are encouraged to experience winter games.
"I definitely believe that it's just a beginning for the overall development of ice and snow sports. I think the 2022 Winter Olympics will be a starting point instead of a finishing point. As you know more about the game, you will find the charm about it. The young-aged group shows the strongest 'stickiness' toward a certain sports game. The hours and hours of training could be lengthy and tiring, but once you get mastery of the game, you will find it's attractive and will fall in love with the game. Besides, ice games could help children become strong and courageous," Wang added.
Wang said her company has tried to introduce training systems from Russia and European countries to help improve the performance of learners of the sports.
She believed the whole winter sports industry saw a unique opportunity to serve a new wave of winter sports enthusiasts in China.
She added China has been striving to break the confine of winter sports in the north by promoting skating in the sub-tropical and tropical south with more and more indoor ice arenas being set up in the region.
Her company has established an ice and snow sports center in Sanya, a city in China's southernmost province of Hainan.
The manager said she's not surprised to see many local residents fall in love with skating in Sanya, a city with tropical climate, for the charm of winter sports is compelling.
She said the tournament of this year's figure skating interclub league will also take place in other cities over the next few months including Qingdao, Wuhan and Harbin.
Apart from the figure skating club league, the manager added they plan to organize a sports event of synchronized skating by the end of the year.
Wang added elite athletes help fuel the public fever for the game in China.
Men's figure skating gold medallist Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan is introduced during victory ceremonies at the Pyeonchang Winter Olympics Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018 in Gangneung, South Korea.[Photo:AP]
Figure skating stars include Yuzuru Hanyu from Japan and Chinese men's skater Jin Boyang. Hanyu won the hearts of many figure skating fans in China, when he became the first male figure skater to win gold at successive Olympics in more than 60 years while Tiantian (nickname for Jin Boyang which is often used by his fans in China) jumped his way to gold at the Four Continents Figure Skating
Jin Boyang of China performs during the men's free figure skating final in the Gangneung Ice Arena at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung, South Korea, Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018.[Photo:AP]
Championships before the PyeongChang Olympics where he narrowly missed the medal ranking fourth in South Korea, but still the best scores of Chinese male athlete in the history of the game.
However Wang Yuming said the whether the passion for ice games could sustain after the Olympic fever depends on the market influence of the whole industry.
But this really takes time, especially in China where the ice games just started gaining popularity among the public only in recent years, Wang Yuming commented from her past experience promoting ice hockey among teenagers.
"I often tell my team that what we are doing is to build a better environment for kids to develop a hobby on ice games and make our best to help the game to grow in China in the next decades with better commercial operations." Wang noted, adding that "yet this would not be an overnight success. It takes time and need our constant efforts."