Canadian support for Team China strong as Winter Games wind down

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China's best-ever performance at a Winter Olympics is receiving strong support among Chinese locals and visitors alike in the streets of Vancouver with the Games coming to a close this weekend.

With China sitting at 11 medals on Saturday on the strength of five gold medals, two silvers and four bronzes, the country looks well-set to record its first top-10 finish in the medal table after going into the weekend in eighth place.

Going into the Vancouver Games, China had won a total of 33 medals in its first seven Winter Olympics appearances, with a 13th-place finish in Salt Lake City in 2002 being the team's best result to date.

"China is doing great," said Chinese visitor Wang Bin on the crowded streets of downtown Vancouver on a wet Saturday afternoon in the Canadian city. "It's a young team and while the Summer Olympics are more important in China, we have a bright future in Winter sports and will soon be competing on an even level with the best countries in the world in many sports. Just give it time."

The Harbin native told Xinhua he was especially impressed with Wang Meng. The 24-year-old Heilongjiang speed skater won her third gold medal of the Games on Friday when she added the women's 1,000 meters to her earlier victories in the 500 meters and 3,000-meter relay.

Along with her outstanding performance at the 2006 Turin Games in Italy, the reigning world champion has now won six medals to become the most decorated Chinese Winter Olympian ever.

"She's the best," said an enthusiastic Wang Bin, who compared Wang Meng's dominance of her sport to that of Sun Wen, the Chinese football great who led the China women's team to a silver medal at the 1996 Atlanta Games. "She was the top-rated skater coming into Vancouver and she came through. I can see speed skating becoming more and more popular in China, especially if more facilities are built."

The figure skating pairs gold medal performance by Zhao Hongbo and Xue Shen proved equally as popular with local Chinese. With a stunning performance, the husband-and-wife team ended the dominance of Russian and European skaters in the category with their first victory in their fourth Olympic appearance. Pang Qing and Tong Jian added to the Chinese dominance by winning the silver-medal.

"They were good, they were beautiful, very impressive," said Steph Peng, a Taiwanese who immigrated to Canada 20 years, of Zhao and Shen's winning performance.

"I can tell from this competition that the Chinese team was stronger. It looked so effortless. When you watched it you didn't feel worried about them."

"Local Chinese were happy. I heard Chinese people say they were happy for the China team but also the Canada team because they had immigrated here."

Ten-year-old Jessica Lui whose family originally came from Guangdong province, said she was enjoying the whole atmosphere of the Olympics. After blue skies and warm weather for the first week of the Games, the second week saw the return of the typical Vancouver winter - grey skies and rain.

"It's been pretty good, especially the figure skating," said Lui while enjoying a street performance by juggler balancing on an over-sized unicycle with her two younger sisters. "Both (Xue and Zhao) were very excellent. The skating was beautiful. They were up against tough competition but they didn't trip or fall."

"This is a first-time experience for most of us and it has been really great. People have come from all over the world to be here and the feeling on the streets is just magic. My friend was at the Beijing Olympics and now I have been at the Vancouver Olympics. We now have something in common and we will share our experiences next time we see each other."

Not all, however, has gone as planned for Team China in its eighth appearance at a Winter Olympiad. The highly-rated Chinese aerialist skiers could not follow in the gold-medal performance by Han Xiaopeng at the 2006 Turin Games, as Li Nina and Guo Xinxin claimed silver and bronze medals, respectively, in the ladie's aerials, while Liu Zhongqing was the best of the men with a bronze.

Likewise, the Chinese women curlers were expected to win gold going into the tournament, but could only salvage at bronze when Yan Zhou and her team beat Switzerland on Friday.

Bryan Wong, a Hong Kong native who has lived in Vancouver for nearly 20 years, said the China team should only be proud of its performance in a Games dominated a resurgent American team, host Canada, Germany and the surprising Norwegians.

"You just have to look at the difference that they (Team China) have made in figure skating, speed skating and the aerial skiing. It seems like once China puts its attention to a sport, just give it a few years and they will be competitive. The curling is another one.

"Wait till China hosts a Winter Olympic Games, that's when you will really see winter sport really take off in the country."

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