On the glory trail

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Torsongan Bullik competes in a men's 10km cross-country skiing race in Wenquan county in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region on Nov 24. XINHUA

Swapping his promising cycling career for cross-country skiing has not been an easy transition for Torsongan Bullik. However, with his dream of representing Team China at next year's Winter Olympics now within touching distance, it's a decision he is glad he made.

The 25-year-old is currently in the final stage of preparations for Beijing 2022 with the provisional national cross-country skiing squad on the trails near his hometown in Wenquan county in Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.

"I remember when I first started cycling, it was pretty tough. I needed to buy all the equipment myself and fight in all the competitions by myself," Bullik told Xinhua. "Now in the cross-country skiing squad, we enjoy great support, which gives me more motivation to prepare for the Winter Olympics."

Bullik's athletic potential was apparent from a young age. He excelled at running as a middle-school student, when he could cover 10 kilometers in 36 minutes. In 2016, he finished third in the Xinjiang Wusu International Marathon as an amateur. However, without proper coaching at the time, the hard miles on the road soon caught up with him.

"Because I wasn't training scientifically, I wasn't recovering after the runs properly, so my knee eventually began to hurt badly and I couldn't run anymore. That's why I got into cycling. The moment I tried it, I fell in love with the sport," Bullik revealed in an earlier interview.

"I had practiced running for six years, and I had achieved something. But cycling quickly became my new passion. I remember when I was a kid, I would stand along the highway near my town to watch the cyclists compete, and those memories inspired me to train."

Bullik applied himself to cycling with the same zeal he had approached running in his youth, pushing his limits to win medals at all levels of the sport domestically. His stamina in the saddle attracted the attention of the national cross-country skiing team, which was scouting non-winter sports in search of new talents.

He initially balked at the idea of leaving cycling behind for yet another detour in his meandering athletic career. However, the prospect of competing at Beijing 2022 was simply too good to turn down.

"I was told if I train hard and I achieve something, I could have a chance to represent our nation at the Winter Olympics. And that's what grabbed me," said Bullik.

"When I first arrived in Beijing to join up with the team, they did not ask me to totally quit cycling, and actually they said if I could manage the time, I could continue to race in cycling competitions. So, it's worked out perfectly."

Bullik began his switch to cross-country skiing in November 2018, and is finally up to speed after initially finding the going tough.

"I was used to being the best in cycling, so I have put in a lot of effort trying to become the best in cross-country skiing. After training with the team during the day, I need to go to the gym to level up my upper-body strength in the evening," Bullik added. "To keep up with the pace of the skiing team, I had to put in a lot of extra training at first."

Come February, all his hard work should be worth it.

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