Beijing hosts the Winter Olympics a little more than two years from now. But Chinese athletes have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to winter sports.
At the last games, the country placed 14th in the medal count. Now, a university in the U.S. state of Wyoming is helping out.
CGTN’s Hendrik Sybrandy reports.
On a recent fall afternoon, members of the University of Wyoming Nordic Ski team headed to higher elevation in search of snow to practice on.
The team has a bit of a different look this season.
10 Chinese student-athletes, five male, five female, have joined the squad, bringing lots of energy to road trips and workouts, if not a whole lot of skiing expertise.
“Everything is interesting to them and they’re so excited to try everything,” said Christi Boggs, the team’s co-coach.
She’s helping give the new team members a crash course, not literally of course, in a sport none of them had ever tried before landing in Wyoming.
The 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics is what’s brought them to the western U.S. state. It will feature some sports, like Nordic skiing, that have never been popular in China and China has never been competitive in.
“China is now behind because of the shortage of facilities, shortage of training personnel, expertise,” said Qin “Arthur” Zhu with the University of Wyoming’s Kinesiology Department.
He said the country, which finished 14th among all nations in the 2018 Winter Olympics medal count, is busy trying to catch up.
Zhu helped spearhead an agreement this year between Shanghai University of Sport, his alma mater, and the University of Wyoming, where he now works.
It’s sending Chinese athletes who’ve been proficient in other sports to train in the U.S. in the hopes they could potentially compete in 2022. The first group was chosen carefully.
“We tested a group of athletes, almost 100, and we also tested their English level and IQ and their physical capacity,” Zhu said.
Ten were picked including Murong, who’s played football.
“Because I want to do everything,” she said. “Life’s a journey.”
I think this is an amazing experience,” said Lydia, a hurdler.
“As a beginner, I think the hard part is the skill,” said Andy, a rock climber.
The learning curve in this often demanding and technical sport has been steep at times. A recent time trial posed a few challenges.
“They ran really fast, did really well, and then as soon as they got on the roller skis, they just got dropped by everybody, and they were like why is this happening to me?” Boggs said.
The athletes are learning Nordic skiing from the ground up. A newly established center on campus will study them in many different ways and track their performances.
“It’s kind of experimental,” Zhu said. “Nobody knows if it will work… Maybe we cannot deliver good athletes to compete at the world level but we can actually deliver good coaches.”
The seeds of a brand new sport, to these athletes and much of their country, are being planted, with Wyoming’s help.
“I don’t know, it’s pretty cool,” Boggs said. “We wouldn’t have guessed it. Crazy awesome adventure.”