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Team unveiled for flame's Qomolangma ascent
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China has stepped up preparation for the Olympic flame's ascent of Mount Qomolangma as the squad to carry the flame atop was announced on Tuesday at a press conference held in the Qomolangma media center which is 5,040 meters above sea level.

Zhang Zhijian, spokesman of the Chinese Mountaineering Team, named the 36-strong team, including 24 ethnic Tibetans, 10 Han Chinese, one from Tu ethnic group and one from Tujia ethnic group.

"This well-organized team consists of experienced mountaineers and some university students who have climbing experience, so I believe they will augment each other in every respect of the ascent," Zhang said.

The original Qomolangma mountaineering team came into being in November 2006 when over 70 climbers gathered separately in Beijing's Huairou and southwest China's Tibetan Autonomous Region. The team include members of the Tibetan Mountaineering Guide School and university students with climbing experience. All the recruits must have at least climbed mountains with altitude of 6,500 meters or above for once.

The two squads joined each other in March 2007 for further training and selection. In May 2007, a test-run went well as 17 climbers scaled the Mt. Qomolangma and finished the high-tech lighting of the lantern and torch.

After that, the newly formed Chinese Mountaineering Team was preparing themselves for the historic ascent in Beijing, Yunnan Province and Tibet before they were short-listed for a 36-man squad.

"The final 36-man squad is picked up on basis of the climbers' performance in training and test-runs," said Zhang.

"They must be physically strong, passionate, and willing to make contribution to the Olympic movement."

Zhang also confirmed that the team will be headed by the well-known alpinist Wang Yongfeng.

Wang will be assisted by two Tibetan coaches, one Han Chinese coach and another ethnic Tu coach.

The team, with an average age of 30.2, will also see three women climbers, two Tibetans and one Han Chinese.

"The snowfall in the past couple of days had some impact upon our schedule but everything is under control," said Zhang. "The trails and some of the tents have been destroyed, so the main job the torch climbers are doing now is fixing those damaged facilities."

"I don't want to be a fortune-teller. The mountaineers are in progress but the final day to ascend has to be weighed after all the factors are considered," said Zhang when asked whether the day of ascent has been decided.

After two days of snowstorm, the weather conditions in the Himalayas look nice for the following two days. According to some mountaineers, climbers need only four or five days to reach the top of the world's tallest peak if everything is in place.

The torch has returned to the Chinese mainland at the beginning of May and is being relayed in Chinese cities.

The relay had been billed as the most ambitious of all time, with the highlight set to be an ascent of Mt. Qomolangma in May. When the special torch is relayed over the summit, the main relay will take a day off.

Beijing promised in its bidding reports seven years ago that the sacred flame of the Olympics would reach the world highest peak. It will be the first time for the Olympic torch relay to be held on the 8844.43-meter mountain.

May and September are the most popular months for expeditions on Mt. Qomolangma.

(Xinhua News Agency May 6, 2008)  

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