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Thank you, my dear coach
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Sijtje - always proud of her skaters.
Sijtje - always proud of her skaters.

By Huang Shan

China.org.cn staff reporter in Harbin

They may not be able to share the medals, but they do deserve to share the spotlight with their skaters. Sijtje Van Der Lende was the focus of a lot of attention in her role as coach of China's national speed skating team at the ongoing Winter Universiade in northeast China's Harbin.

The former Dutch speed skater began her career in China last May, responsible for all-rounders and some of the sprinters. She has been coaching several of China's top skaters, including Ren Hui and Yu Fengtong who placed second in the men's 500 meters events of this Universiade.

Sijtje, as most of her skaters and colleagues call her, has also helped to focus the spotlight on long-distance skating in a country where sprint events usually attract most of the attention. Fu Chunyan, the youngest skater in the national training camp, claimed victory in the women's 3000 meters on Saturday – China's first gold medal in the speed skating events of the Winter Universiade.

"She helped me a lot," said Fu, brimming with happiness. "My physical condition has improved a lot under her coaching."

"Sijtje is easy-going and friendly," said Dong Feifei, silver medalist in both the 1500 and 3000 meters events. "We have a degree of flexibility in our training arrangements and our private lives." The freedom she allows makes her very different from her strict Chinese counterparts. "But that doesn't mean we can slack off during training," said Dong. "She's very demanding. I think she has given me real encouragement and confidence through her coaching – that's what I need most. "

When Dong crossed the finish line of women's 1500 meters race, Sijtje skated half of the rink to congratulate her, tapping her on the back.

Sijtje cheers for Yu Fengtong during his men's 100 meters final on February 21, 2009.
Sijtje cheers for Yu Fengtong during his men's 100 meters final on February 21, 2009.

Sijtje said she was proud of her skaters and believed they genuinely had the potential to win in next year's Winter Olympics. Even when Yu Fengtong narrowly lost in the men's 500 meters, you could see excitement rather than disappointment on her face. "He did well. That's Yu's personal best and I'm very proud of him," said she.

During the races, Sijtje always stands alongside the rink and beats time for skaters. Even from some 200 meters away, her shouting of "move, move" or "zuo, you, zuo, you (left, right, left, right)" can be heard through the deafening cheers. "That's her - so passionate and infectious," said Dong.

(China.org.cn February 22, 2009)

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