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Winter sports enjoy rising popularity in China

AS the first full year after Beijing was awarded the 2022 Winter Olympics, 2016 was marked by the rising popularity of winter sports in China. And with preparations for the Games already in full swing, there is also gathering momentum for winter sports among the general public.

Li Jianrou, a short-track speed skating medalist in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, is encouraging local teenagers to take to the ice and snow during the upcoming Chinese New Year holiday in northeast China's Changchun city. Part of a wider effort to promote winter sports, the provincial capital of Jilin aims to motivate one million teenagers to enjoy the city's abundant skating rinks and ski resorts.

"Among the three gold medals claimed by China in Sochi 2014, two were snatched by Jilin athletes," said Li, who added that as the Beijing Winter Olympic Games approach, China should step up its efforts to train successors to its medalists at previous editions of the Games.

China says it will work closely with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to ensure that Beijing 2022 is a success.

In addition to hosting a successful Games at home in 2022, China is also determined to become a winter sports powerhouse over the course of the next decade.

During its bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics, China promised it would attract as many as 300 million people to take part in winter sports.

Over the course of the past year, these efforts have begun paying dividends. Despite cold weather, many Chinese flew into nearly 200 skiing resorts across the country. Skiing has become both an attractive new sport and a fashionable way to spend a holiday for everyday Chinese.

Vasaloppet, the annual long distance cross-country skiing race launched in Sweden in 1922, held its 15th edition in China this year, with Chinese skiers able to end the domination of Nordic countries and regions in some tough games in the Changchun stage of the FIS China Tour de Ski.

Chinese skiers proved to be unbeatable in the ski sprint on Jan. 3, as Man Dandan took first place in women's sprint, and Zhu Mingliang won gold in the men's event.

"China began to improve its competitiveness in cross-country ski events starting in 2003, many years before China's bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics," said Zhao Xiaolu, deputy director of the Changchun sports bureau.

But medals are not the 'be all end all' of China's effort to promote winter sports. The country aims to popularize winter sports to a scale large enough to benefit people of all stripes, and is willing to devote the resources necessary to make it happen.

The central government approved a ten-year plan on developing winter sports in November 2016, aiming to scale up the winter sports industry to the tune of one trillion yuan (about US$146 billion).

According to the plan, the government will use revenue from the sports lottery and other funds to build more venues, set up sports associations, and organize competitions and festivals for winter sports.

Yabuli Town, China's most popular skiing spot in its northeast province of Heilongjiang, established nine resorts under the management of an administrative committee in 2014. The committee organized the construction of ten new trails and launched an integration project allowing skiers go to different resorts in the area with a single pass.

In the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture in Jilin, a resort called Mengdumei resort offered a price as low as 120 yuan (17.5 dollars) for a day of skiing, leading to a year on year increase of 30,000 skiers for 2016.

The popularization of winter sports is not confined to the cold areas of northern China. Southern China is seeing a huge surge in interest as well. An alpine skiing competition was recently held in southwest Guizhou Province after the start of the new year, the first ever event of its kind held in southern China.

Song Guangqiang, deputy director of the Guizhou sports bureau, said the province has great potential to develop winter sports.

"To meet the growing demands of Guizhou skiers, we aim to build more indoor skating rinks and outdoor ski resorts. What's more, a good regulation of the market is also very important," Song recently told Xinhua.

Efforts to popularize winter sports are also resonating in China's Hong Kong.

Hong Kong's Chin Puisi Rebecca took part in the ice hockey competition at the 13th Chinese National Winter Games in 2016. Despite a shortage of facilities in Hong Kong, which has only ice rinks, Chin began to train herself as a puckster 19 years ago. But she didn't receive professional training until in 2011, when former member of Chinese national ice hockey team Tan Anqi retired and decided to coach in Hong Kong.

"Today over 1,000 people learn to play ice hockey from Tan. Maybe we will see a much stronger Hong Kong team in a few years," Chin said.


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