Crazy for curling: a man's slide and struggle to success

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By Wang Jingyu and Qu Peipei

BEIJING, May 20 (Xinhua) -- For curling world champion Wang Bingyu, the most impressive competition she participated in was not the 2009 World Championships in Gangneung, where she skippered China to the country's first world title. Instead, it was the Pan-Pacific Junior Curling Championships at Beijing's Zhong Ti Olympic Curling Center in December, 2005.

"That's the coldest curling venue on the planet!" Wang joked when recalling her career.

"The venue owner couldn't afford the electricity bill, so the air conditioning system was switched off. It was freezing," she explained.

The Zhong Ti Olympic Curling Center was then owned by Yang Hui and her husband Wei Deguang, a businessman who became fascinated by curling by chance and then dedicated his whole life to the sport.

Craze for curling

In 1993, Wei Deguang met Yang Hui in Beijing and they soon fell in love. The following year, Yang moved to Montreal for further study, and when Wei came to visit her, he was invited by a local friend to a curling arena in the city.

Watching how even elderly people could perform elegant deliveries, Wei was utterly mesmerized by this game of "chess on ice". He believed the sport would be popular among Chinese, being a combination of dynamism and elegance that is suitable for all ages.

Upon returning to China, Wei began to raise money and finally purchased some land in 2000 in Beijing's northern outskirts of Huairou where he planned to build the first curling rink in China - the Zhong Ti Olympic Curling Center.

The project was completed in 2004, but owing to a lack of funds and high operational costs, the center was not able to open to the public. In 2005, Wei was offered an opportunity to cooperate with the Chinese Curling Association (CCA). At that time, with no professional curling venues anywhere in the country, China's national curling team was forced to practise at hockey rinks in the country's northeastern city of Harbin.

Wei was encouraged by the CCA to stage the Pan-Pacific Junior Curling Championships at the Zhong Ti Olympic Curling Center. The couple even decided to sell their apartment in order to raise money for the event.

Regardless of their efforts, the competition was a far cry from perfection. "On the eve of the competition, we found the ice surface didn't meet the standard, as we were very inexperienced in making curling ice," Yang recalled. "So we were in a rush to manage to freeze it in time."

"In addition, without adequate funding to sustain the air-conditioning, the competitors had to play games with the temperature hovering around zero degree."

Home of champions

Despite the initial hardships, the Zhong Ti Olympic Curling Center, equipped with six lanes, soon became the home base of China's national team curling athletes, with both men's and women's teams and several local teams training there all year round.

Yang recalled that when Chinese New Year came, Wang Bingyu and her teammates would stay at the center to continue with their busy training and competition schedules. They would make dumplings at the canteen with the staff, just as families in China traditionally do on the eve of the Spring Festival.

In just a few years, the Chinese curling team made rapid progress. In 2007, both Chinese men's and women's curling teams won title at the Pan-Pacific Championships for the first time. In 2008, the Chinese women's team finished runner-up in the World Championships before taking first place in the 2009 competition. But it was when China's women's team grabbed a bronze medal at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver that curling really soared in popularity in China.

Later on, when another curling arena was built in Harbin, hometown of many curlers, the Zhong Ti Olympic Curling Center became the base for the National Wheelchair Curling Team.

In 2014, Wei Deguang established the Beijing Wheelchair Curling Team, which scooped gold medal at the National Games of Disabled Persons only nine months after its formation.

Sower of curling dreams

Helping Chinese people feel and enjoy the beauty of curling had always been Wei Deguang's dream, but running a curling rink is a different thing entirely, being a very costly business.

Five years after the construction of the Center, Wei finally decided to open it to the public. Supported by the Huairou District Education Commission, the Center became a place for schoolchildren to undertake their curriculum-mandated physical training. Tens of thousands of local students undertook curling training at the Center.

As this cohort of children grew up and enrolled at universities, curling became a hobby or even a career for some of them. Han Yu, skipper of China's women's national team, is one of the most successful graduates. In 2016, when Han was training for just six hours a week, she took a silver medal with partner Ross Whyte at the Winter Youth Olympics.

However, despite receiving government subsidies, Wei had had debts mounting for two decades. Yang recalled that he would often wake up in the morning and mutter about the amount of work there was to do while brushing his teeth. To release the anxiety, Wei became a heavy smoker, getting through four packs of cigarettes per day. At the end of 2016, Wei died from complications arising from an acute hemangioma.

Many of Wei's overseas friends flew in to attend his funeral. Most of them knew Wei through his campaign to promote curling. It was comforting for Yang at that time to realize that Wei's contributions were respected and that "he didn't waste his life." "He spent his life on a career he truly loved."

To fulfill Wei's work, Yang took charge of the curling rink, with just 10,000 RMB (1,400 U.S. dollars) in her bank account. After four months of painstaking efforts, Yang managed to pay the arrears of wages and persuade the creditors to extend the payment period, but the increasing interest of 30 million RMB (over four million U.S. dollars), mounting debts soon led the Center to be put up for auction. Yang had to bid farewell to the venue where the curling dream started.

To keep the dream alive, she is now co-operating two new curling rinks in Beijing's Dongcheng and Fengtai districts. Yang has also upgraded the business plan, which derives revenue from rink fees and curling derivatives.

Yang also encouraged her own son to establish curling clubs in universities. In addition, with the Federation of University Sports of China, they co-host the curling league among 20 universities in Beijing, including the prestigious Peking and Tsinghua universities.

"I always tell my son that his father worked hard, but he worked for his love and dream, and this dream is impacting thousands." said Yang. "We live on faith in dreams." Enditem

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