China reaps fruits far beyond ice-snow sports at National Winter Games
  ·  2024-02-28  ·   Source: Xinhua News Agency

Torchbearer Wu Dajing sets the torch into the cauldron during the opening ceremony of China's 14th National Winter Games in Hulun Buir, north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, on February 17 (XINHUA)

On February 17, Winter Olympic short-track speed skating champion Wu Dajing ignited the cauldron, marking the start of the 14th National Winter Games. The competition featured exceptional performances and unwavering determination from athletes nationwide.

As the Games concluded on February 27 in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, participants left with unforgettable memories. China, a winter sports powerhouse, demonstrated its prowess, propelling its ice-snow economy to new heights.

An excellent games

Wu Yu of Liaoning lowered his own national record to take gold in the men's 10,000m speed skating, and he found that more competitive athletes had emerged in the event. "It's delightful to see more Chinese skaters making progress in long-distance events. I believe we can shine on the international stage," Wu said.

The 14th edition of the Games introduced a youth category, providing a platform for young talents to showcase their skills and gain valuable experience.

Tim Cheng, a 15-year-old player in Hong Kong's junior ice hockey team, traveled thousands of kilometers to Hulun Buir for the Games. Despite not reaching the junior men's ice hockey semifinal, Tim stated, "We learned a lot in high-level competitions, marking a new start for my career."

Hong Kong finished fifth, but coach Leo Kan expressed satisfaction with the team's progress. He noted the players' maturity on the rink and continuous passion, praising the improved organization, facilities and medical services.

The Games also featured mass sports activities reflecting local culture and traditions. Du Bojun, director of Inner Mongolia's sports bureau, highlighted the success of over 240 winter activities, engaging around 250,000 participants and injecting new energy into the region's winter sports development.

China successfully engaged 300 million people in winter sports before the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics and has continued to attract more participants. Yu Haiyan, deputy director of China's Winter Sports Management Center, highlighted the growing popularity of ice-snow sports nationwide, noting increased passion even in warmer southern regions due to social and technological advancements.

High-level competition 

The 14th National Winter Games, a vital preparatory stage for athletes aspiring for the 2026 Milano-Cortina Winter Olympics, included all events of the upcoming Olympics, providing ample opportunities for skill development. Wang Lei, director of China's Winter Sports Management Center, affirmed that the competition's rules aligned completely with those of the Winter Olympics.

Britain's Sarah Henderson, a seasoned short-track speed skating referee for over 15 years, served as the chief referee at the Games. Impressed by Chinese people's passion for winter sports, she acknowledged China's longstanding strength in consistently winning titles and World Cups. Henderson expressed excitement for the future, emphasizing the presence of many young talents in China.

Olympic champion Su Yiming secured two golds in men's snowboard slopestyle and Big Air at the Games. The 20-year-old, who dominated the FIS World Cup in Beijing last December, maintained his momentum. Despite a mistake in the first run, Su handled the pressure and aims to adjust his mindset for future success, looking forward to delivering his best at the Milano-Cortina 2026.

Canada's halfpipe snowboarder Derek Livingston concluded his 15-year career last year and transitioned into coaching. As a freshman coach for Chinese snowboarder Liu Jiayu, a four-time Olympian and silver medalist at PyeongChang 2018, they teamed up to pursue Olympic success.

Despite Liu earning only a silver at the Games, Livingston is confident in her potential for greater achievements. Implementing new tricks and refining her run, Livingston believes Liu will be a strong medal contender in upcoming competitions and the next Olympics.

Rising ice-snow economy 

The Beijing Winter Olympics two years ago left lasting legacies for China's winter sports development and spurred the ice and snow economy nationwide.

Li Kemin, director of the Tianjin Municipal Bureau of Sports, introduced that Tianjin established a Winter Sports Management Center in 2018 and invested more than 40 million yuan ($5.6 million) each year in winter sports training, research, medical and other related services.

"Around 150 athletes from Tianjin participated in the National Winter Games," Li noted. "Driven by the Beijing Winter Olympics, the development of winter sports in Tianjin moved into the fast lane."

International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach also spoke highly of the Beijing 2022 legacies, saying, "There are growing contributions of sport in general, in particular of the winter sports industry to the GDP in China."

According to the organizers, more than 13 million visits have been made to the competition zones of the Games in Inner Mongolia, generating a total income of over 10 billion yuan in the sports, culture and tourism industries.

Yang Xuedong, director of the Economic Department of the State General Administration of Sport, said, "In 2023, China hosted the 31st FISU World University Games in Chengdu, the Hangzhou Asian Games, and China's first Student (Youth) Games in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. Sports and related consumption in the host cities exceeded 100 billion yuan in total."

Next year, Harbin, capital city of northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, is to stage the 9th Asian Winter Games, which will continue to fuel the enthusiasm for winter sports and the local economy.

"Tailored approaches of boosting the ice and snow industry in different areas across the country can unleash the potential of consumption and accelerate the regional development on the way of developing China into a sports powerhouse," said Bai Yufei, professor at Beijing Sport University.

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