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China embraces Universiade after 60-year development of winter sports
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To be the cradle of future Olympic champions, the Winter Universiade has come to China for the first time after the host country goes through 60-year development of winter sports.

The Chinese people are wondering about the feasibility of hosting a Winter Olympics in a near future, and the Universiade becomes the testing ground for both professional services and sports venues and facilities.

"The Universiade is propitious to the cultural and economic development as well as sports infrastructure construction, all of them make Harbin closer to the Winter Olympic Games," said Xiao Tian, deputy director of the General Administration of Sports of China.

However, Xiao kept a realistic mind as he said that "Harbin still has a long way to go as we even did not hold any single World Cup so far for Alpine skiing, and we did not have the facilities to host either luge or bobsleigh events."

"The most challenging task for China (to host Winter Olympics) is from the snow events, which are the main part of a Winter Olympics, and the Alpine skiing has been and remains to be the mayhem," said the Chinese official.

But gossips are blossoming up, saying that Harbin, the most suitable candidate city in China, is considering bidding for the hosting of either 2018 or 2022 Winter Olympics.

And no one is ready to cast aside the future possibility after local provincial and municipal governments have invested some 3.1 billion yuan (some 430 million US dollars) in infrastructure, sports venues and training facilities for the Universiade with ice events in Harbin and snow events in both Yabuli and Maoershan.

With its first National Ice Sports Games in 1952, China remembered its first world champion in winter sports when Luo Zhihuan won the men's 1,500m title in the 1963 world speed-skating championships in Nagano, Japan.

In February 1980, China sent its first delegation to the Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid after the International Olympic Committee welcomed China back to its membership in October 1979.

And 22 years later, Yang Yang became the first Chinese champion in the Winter Olympics when she took both 500m and 1,000m titles on the short track rink in Salt Lake City in 2002, the historical gold medals in winter sports for China.

Four years later in Turin, Han Xiaopeng became the first Chinese man to win the Winter Olympic title when he won the men's aerial freestyle event, the first gold for China in snow events and first winter Olympic crown for Chinese men athletes.

After holding the 3rd Asian Winter Games in 1996 when China topped the medal tally with 15 gold, seven silver and 15 bronze medals, Harbin made its first bid to host the Winter Olympics in 2002 but failed to make the finalists.

Then, the city offered its candidacy in May 2004 to the International University Sports Federation (FISU) for the Universiade, and won the hosting rights against Erzurum of Turkey in January 2005.

Nowadays, the Universiade, the first world-scale sports gala after the Beijing Olympics, came to the most populous country as the first sports meeting when the monetary and financial crisis is hurting the whole world.

"To hold a successful Universiade is a necessity for us to bid for the Winter Olympics in the future," said Guo Mingyu, director of the Heilongjiang provincial sports bureau, "the Universiade will give impetus to the development of winter sports in our country and help us to accumulate experiences in hosting international sports meetings."

"It's a precious moment to promote the understanding between Heilongjiang and the international world," said provincial governor Li Zhanshu, "and we will surely bid for the Winter Olympics in the future after the Universiade."

Back to the 1950s and 1960s, Chinese athletes in winter sports were in a dire condition with neither financial support nor training facilities.

"We trained outside, seeking for any frozen lake in the countryside," recalled Luo Zhihuan, "We could only have our training in the morning in early winter days, and we time and again slipped into the icy water when the ice was thawing."

However, the winter sports developed steadily during the past decades through the construction of infrastructure as "we have dozens of skating rinks in the country, Harbin alone has 10 competition venues and training facilities," said Zhao Yinggang, director of the Winter Sports Center of the General Administration of Sports of China.

Apart from its northeast region, China also has skiing resort venues even in Beijing as well as in Yunnan, the southwest province, which help skaters to keep away from outside training and promote the development of the sports throughout the country.

While the Chinese athletes have made their epoch-making feat through the short track and freestyle aerials, more and more skiers and skaters are gearing up for the Vancouver Games next year, hoping to stamp their names on the list of medallists in short track, curling, aerials and half pipe.

But, to host an Olympics requires more than the Universiade did as Xiao Tian said that the Winter Olympics is far more important and worldwide than the National Games, the Asian Winter Games or the Winter Universiade.

"It's not equidistance among these games. Any city that has hosted the first three kinds of games cannot be justified that it is already capable of or ready for hosting a Winter Olympics," said Xiao.

Fritz Holzer, honorary member of FISU, said that "the ski resort in Yabuli is good enough for the Universiade ski competitions, but for the Winter Olympics, it need to be a better infrastructure."

"Most of the tracks and courses are all right even for the Winter Olympics, but in Olympics more disciplines are set up for competition. Yabuli needs to build other courses like bobsleigh," said Holzer, also a member of the International Skiing Federation.

"More hotels are needed for not only athletes and spectators from worldwide. More transportation are necessary for the Olympics," said the Swiss.

"I think the organizers are capable of doing that. It won't be a hard work for infrastructure construction to meet Olympics standard on the basis of everything available here," said Holzer.

(Xinhua News Agency Feburary 26, 2009)

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