Li Zijun, 15, performs during the China Winter Games last week. Li claimed all three women's singles gold medals and is aiming to contend for a medal at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Fang Xinwu for China Daily
It wasn't a time for champions. It was a time for youth. With the stars of the Vancouver Olympics sitting out, China's 12th National Winter Games - which wrapped up on Friday in Changchun, Jilin province - became a stage for the next generation to showcase itself.
Nineteen-year-old short track speed skater Liang Wenhao distinguished himself with six gold medals and one silver at the tournament.
He set himself up to be a centerpiece of the national team after four-time Winter Olympic champion Wang Meng was kicked off the squad following a drunken brawl with a team manager during a camp in Qingdao in July.
Also absent was Zhou Yang, who won gold medals in the women's 1,500m and 3,000m relay in Vancouver.
"It's hard to predict results in short track matches, and I didn't expect to win six gold and one silver before the tournament, but this is also the charming side of athletics," said Liang, who won the men's 500m at the 2010 World Short Track Speed Skating Championships in Bulgaria to become China's youngest male world champion.
Zhao Yinggang, director of China's Winter Sports Administrative Center, also praised Liang as a potential leader of the short track speed skating team and encouraged Liang to achieve a breakthrough at the Sochi Winter Olympics.
"I hardly deserve to be the leader, and I only hope to motivate my teammates with my performance and push the whole team forward," said Liang, who is expected to surpass Li Jiajun to become the greatest Chinese short track skater.
"Our team experienced a lot of unpleasant things earlier, which hurt the image of our team, and I hope we will do our best from every detail to rebuild our image," he said.
With Sochi still two years away, Liang said he is working on both short and long events to become a better all-round skater.
"Chinese still have a certain gap with the world's top athletes, but we have made a lot of efforts to catch up with them," Liang said. "The Winter Games is a good chance for me to accumulate more experience, and I won't stop trying to improve myself in pursuit of a satisfying finish with my teammates in 2014."
In figure skating, 15-year-old Li Zijun claimed all three women's singles gold medals.
Li was selected by national coach Li Mingzhu in 2008 to train in the US, together with peers Geng Bingwa and Zhang Kexin.
Li grabbed a silver medal at the 11th National Games at the age of 11. She grew up fast, placing third at the 2010-11 ISU Junior Grand Prix Final and fourth the following year.
She is expected to return China's women's singles figure skaters to elite status, following in the steps of the retired Chen Lu, who became the first Asian skater to win medals in two Olympics.
"I'm very happy to see my years of effort pay off," said Li. "I really enjoy the whole process of competitions, and I can feel the happiness of success from each well completed jump. Whether I can stand on the podium or not, I love to play."
Li is now in Innsbruck, Austria, competing in the first Youth Winter Olympics.
Despite her student's achievements, coach Li Mingzhu, who used to train Chen, said it will be difficult to win a medal at the Sochi Olympics in the face of strong opponents from Japan, Russia and the US.
"Our skaters joined international tournaments at a comparably older age, and they still have to improve in many aspects, such as their comprehension of music, dancing rituals and the continuity of their movements," Li Mingzhu said.
"Besides helping them to gain more experiences through international appearances, they need to increase the difficulty of movements, because it's very hard for Chinese skaters to stand out purely by artistic performances," she said.