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January 18, 2016

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‘Polar Bear’ keeps his cool to beat all-comers at icy chess challenge

BURIED waist deep in ice for more than an hour wearing nothing but a pair of swimming shorts, the man known in China as the “Polar Bear” shivered and laughed at the challenge.

“At the moment I feel very good,” said Cui Deyi, his torso exposed to near-freezing winter temperatures in the city of Handan, north China’s Hebei Province, on Saturday.

Cui is one of an elite group of global competitors testing humanity’s ability to withstand extreme cold.

“I could continue for at least another hour,” said Cui, with the steely confidence of a man who in 2011 reportedly submerged for 75 minutes in near-freezing waters off the coast of Norway.

With fragments of ice pressing against his lower body, the rotund athlete’s arms were rocked by shivers, but that didn’t prevent him from winning several games of Chinese chess.

At rapid fire speed he slammed pieces down on a board in front of his transparent tub, securing victory against a local opponent.

“I’m using chess to test my ability to withstand cold, and to see if my thoughts and hand reactions are suffering,” he said.

Cui hails from Huangshan, east China’s Anhui Province, and began competing in cold endurance contests a decade ago, after years of swimming in rivers and lakes during winter.

“Other people would shiver after five minutes or so, but I could do half an hour to an hour with no problems. So I slowly started to turn it into a profession,” he said.

Winter swimming, which sees enthusiasts breaking into iced-up waterways for dips said to stave off illness, is popular in many parts of China.

A winter swimming club in Handan organized Cui’s challenge beside a half frozen lake.

Cui is not the only cold-endurance competitor in China. In 2013 he took on challenger Jin Songhao, with both submerged up to neck-level in ice tanks. Cui emerged victorious after 138 minutes, reports said.

Internationally his biggest rival is Dutch national Wim Hof, known as “Iceman.” He set a world record by reaching 7,400 meters on Everest in 2011 wearing just a pair of shorts.

Cui challenged the Dutchman, saying: “Whoever in the world is good, I’ll take them on, and see whose body can withstand more.”

Minutes later he was pulled out of the ice tank, with assistants quickly handing him a white bath robe to cover his black swimming trunks. The outside temperature was 2 degrees Celsius.

After being patted down by assistants trying to restore blood circulation to his icy-cold extremities, he dressed and retired to a hotel.

Warming up over a bowl of noodles and vegetable dumplings, he said he relied merely on regular practice — including half an hour a day sleeping in an ice bath.


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