China is hopeful of achieving its best-ever Winter Olympics medal tally at the Beijing 2022 Games. [Photo/Xinhua]
With the COVID-19 pandemic casting a shadow over the 2020-21 season, China’s winter sports governing body is launching a series of internal test events to compensate for the current lack of international competitions.
Usually a rest period for China’s winter sports athletes, the upcoming National Day holiday will this year instead offer the nation’s best skiers, snowboarders and curlers the chance to do battle in a series of domestic events, which will also facilitate organizational preparations for the 2022 Beijing Olympics.
From Oct 1-13, all available national team athletes in eight sports－curling, freestyle skiing aerials, mogul, cross-country skiing, snowboarding and freeski big air, ski jumping and Nordic combined－will compete at events staged to international standards in five locations－Beijing, Qinhuangdao in Hebei province, Chengdu and two venues in Jilin province－according to the National Winter Sports Administrative Center.
With strict virus-control protocols in place, the series will serve as a timely evaluation for athletes after extended training programs behind closed doors amid the pandemic.
“The biggest challenge for athletes is that they’ve been training and training during the pandemic yet without any official competitions to test if they are working in the right direction,” Sun Yuanfu, a deputy director of the winter sports center, said at the launch of the events on Monday.
“Through these events, we are trying to set up a stage for them to have their hard work gauged and monitored while putting on a show for winter sports fans starved of action during the sports shutdown.”
With just under 500 days to go before the 2022 Olympics open in Beijing and co-host Zhangjiakou, Hebei province, China’s ambition to deliver its biggest gold haul at the home Games has been hamstrung by the cancellation and postponement of several buildup events last winter.
The impact of the COVID-19 crisis continues to be felt for the upcoming season. Last month, the International Skating Union canceled its first four speed skating World Cup legs and first two short-track meets on the 2020-21 circuit due to issues around international travel.
However, the winter sports center confirmed to China Daily on Monday that organizers are still proceeding with preparations for the short-track World Cup’s Beijing leg (Dec 18-20) and the ISU figure skating grand prix final (Dec 10-13) at the refurbished Capital Gymnasium, both of which are 2022 test events.
The local organizing committee in Chongqing also announced on Monday that the Cup of China figure skating grand prix will be staged in the southwestern municipality as scheduled from Nov 6-8. As per an ISU guideline, these events are expected to be held as domestic trials without overseas athletes.
Meanwhile, Chinese athletes have pledged to make the last winter before the Olympic season count.
“With or without the 500-day countdown as a reminder, we do our best in training every day and work as hard as we can in every session,” Yu Baiwei, captain of China’s national women’s ice hockey team, said in a CCTV interview aired on Monday.
“At the end of the day, if we give all we have in training, I believe the result will take care of itself.”
The holiday-period domestic events will be screened by CCTV, regional TV networks and online broadcasters.
The competitions will showcase China’s cutting-edge, open-all-year training facilities, such as dry-snow ramps and a deep landing pool for aerial skiers, grass slopes for ski jumpers and an air-conditioned indoor skiing tunnel.
“These events will make up for the lack of real competition tests for our athletes, demonstrate our latest efforts to prepare for the Games and provide sports fans a thrilling treat during the holidays,” said Ding Dong, executive deputy director of the winter sports center.
A series of grassroots promotions will also be staged to increase public participation and awareness of winter sports. They include 17 roller-skiing amateur races and online proam contests in curling and cross-country skiing.