Half-pipe success part of learning curve

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Half-pipe success part of learning curve

China's Liu Jiayu celebrates after her second run in the finals of the women's snowboarding halfpipe in Vancouver on Thursday. [Reuters]

After almost making the podium at the Vancouver Winter Olympics in the women's snowboard half-pipe, China's young snowboarders want to maintain the momentum for the next Games in four years.

"I'm very happy that I achieved such a good result and I've also found my weak point in training," said 17-year-old Liu Jiayu, who finished fourth on Thursday.

"I've learned a lot from the Olympic competition and the result will be a motivation for my future training. My confidence has been boosted and I know what I should do in the next four years' Olympic circle."

As newcomers to snowboarding, the Chinese competitors have now staked a claim on future medals with lots of young talent coming of age.

Liu's compatriot, 18-year-old Sun Zhifeng, finished seventh.

Liu, Sun and other members of China's first generation of competitive snowboarders were selected from events that require agility and skiing skills, such as Wushu, gymnastics and Alpine skiing.

China's boarders debuted in Turin in 2006 where Pan Lei finished 28th and Sun, who was only 14 at that time, ranked 31st.

Just one year later, Liu jumped onto the podium at a World Cup event in Calgary, Canada, where she clinched her first major title.

"From 2006 onwards, I could see that I was improving, thanks to my own effort and the tireless work of my coach," Liu said before the Olympic competition.

It all paid off in the 2007/08 season as Liu pocketed two World Cup half-pipe titles. She soared into the spotlight again the following year by winning another World Cup stop in Switzerland, earning China its first gold in the sport at a World Championships.

When the reigning world champion was preparing for her first Winter Olympics, she was hit with a severe shoulder injury in October, which forced her to miss systematic training for almost three months.

During the finals in Vancouver, Liu managed to finish a clean first run but failed to deliver a more difficult second run, which kept her out of the medals.

"Through the competition, I know that there is still a gap in my degree of difficulty and in some techniques," Liu said. "I will try to make up for that in my future training."

As former Wushu athletes, Liu and Sun began snowboard training in 2003, when the sport just arrived in China.

"I love it to a degree most people probably couldn't imagine - listening to some punk track and feeling free and loose on the board - that's the kind of life I love," Liu said.

For Sun, a second Olympic experience has made her become more mature.

"I felt more relaxed at this Olympics and I believe I could do better in the future," Sun said.

The youngest rider among the Chinese team, Cai Xuetong, 16, failed to qualify for the semifinals after falling during the qualification stage, but the boarder, who is ranked first in the World Cup standings, believes she has a bright future.

"I'm very excited about my Olympic debut," she said. "I hope I can do as well as the world's top riders here at the Olympics. I hope I can achieve such a goal soon."

The team's coach is confident more success will follow at the next Olympics.

"Our girls still have a gap to make up compared to the medalists, who usually compete in professional X-Games competitions rather than in those ISU series, such as the World Cup," said Liu's coach Liu Changfu. "But we will be sure to strive for a medal at the next Games."

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