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More Popularization of Winter Sports Needed
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Hosts China bagged a record number of 19 golds, 19 silvers and 23 bronzes at the 6th Winter Asiad which closed yesterday in Changchun. The Chinese athletes helped their country recover its Asian leadership in winter sports after eight years of competition with two other powerhouses Japan and South Korea who ended up with 13 golds and 9 respectively.

"We have made a breakthrough in some snow sports," said Wang Yitao, secretary general of the Chinese delegation as China collected a record of eight golds from snow events at the Games. Despite this success, he pointed out "It's far from a great power in snow sports."

In alpine skiing men's slalom, China's best result came from Li Lei at 14th place whilst events like bobsleigh and ski jumping s are still virgin ground for China.

Asian countries are competitive in just a few winter events with many lagged far behind from world standard, said Wei Jizhong, chairman of Sports Commission of the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA).

Even in short track speed skating where China made an impressive progress to tie at 4-4 from their 6-1 debacle against South Korea in the Turin Olympic Games last year, Yoon Jae-Myung, head coach of South Korean short track speed skating team, still turned down the host's efforts, "China only has Wang Meng in terms of world class."

Wang Meng

To allow national athletes to improve, importing foreign coaches has become a popular choice which has seen significant gains. The Chinese women enjoyed a superb run to finish with five golds in winter biathlon and their first gold in cross-country skiing after German Klaus Siebert and Per-Erik Ronnestrand of Sweden took the helms of the Chinese teams apiece.

Kong Yingchao, who claimed the women's 10km pursuit title, noted that the professional theories and training methods brought by Siebert were of huge help to China.

China's cross-country skiing head coach Ronnestrand also agreed that the key to better improving China's standard lie in more participation by the ordinary. "The sport is not very popular in China. In Sweden, all the people rush to the scene when a competition kicks off but it is impossible here."

For some spectators at the Winter Asiad, many events are still unidentified. "I have no idea what the match (biathlon) is about and I'm just here cheering for the Chinese team," said Xing Zhaoshan, a farmer living nearby.

In a vicious circle gnawing away at the frail hopes of Chinese athletes, little fame leads to worse environment. Ice hockey used to have its national league years ago but now only two cities of Harbin and Qiqihar maintain the sport.

China not only wants good results from various snow and ice competitions but also needs to absorb more people to join in, said Liu Peng, president of State General Administration of Sport, adding that China did quite differently in Summer Olympics and Winter Games, and the urgent affair is to popularize mass winter sports.

Commenting on the factor that promoting winter sports is more expensive than the summer events, He Zhenliang, China's former vice president of the International Olympic Committee, radiates confidence for the future: People will be more enthusiastic about winter sports with the continuous development of China's economy.

( by Li Xiao, February 5, 2007)

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