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Strong Showing Despite Silver for China
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Although it was once again a silver medal at the Turin Games, there is no reason to be disappointed as the Chinese women's aerialists displayed strong overall strength.

"Our overall strength is fantastic," said Dustin Wilson, the Canadian coach of the Chinese freestyle skiing aerials team. "We have shown the whole world that China is a very strong force."

Missing the gold medal by 5.16 points to Switzerland's Evelyne Leu, China's Li Nina grabbed the silver medal in the event on Thursday. Her compatriot Xu Nannan finished fourth, while Guo Xinxin and Wang Jiao came in sixth and 11th.

"This time, our aerialists have achieved the best ever results in the snow events during the Winter Olympic Games," said Wang Yitao, director of the Chinese Winter Sports Administrative Centre. "It means that our overall strength is remarkable and we also have a strong reserve team."

All four Chinese skiers made it to the final after the previous day's qualifying rounds. After the first run in the final, they even grabbed the top three positions, with Guo leading the ranking with a perfect landing in a high-level jump, featuring a triple somersault and two twists.

A flawless second jump by Swiss Leu combined with an unexpected fall by Guo while landing led to China narrowly losing the gold and settling for its second silver in this event.

In the 1998 Nagano Games, Xu won the silver in aerials, which was also China's first Olympic medal in the snow events.

The team's strength has already caught the attention of rivals.

"The Chinese are really great. They have a lot of good guys and a lot of potential," said the coach of the Swiss team. "They are strong and they are going to have a lot of medals in the future for sure."

Quick rise

China took to freestyle skiing aerials in 1989. It is a sport characterised by acrobatic skills and agility. Since the Chinese are good at these skills, it has given the country a breakthrough in the snow events and enabled it to make rapid progress.

At the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympic Games, China send two women skiers for this event, which was listed as an Olympic medal event for the first time. They finished in 17th and 18th places respectively and registered the best results thus far for Chinese skiers.

After winning a silver in the 1998 Games, Xu failed to repeat her performance four years later in Salt Lake City, finishing at 12th place. But Li, just 19 years old at that time, put in a surprise 5th rank performance that has marked her dominance of the sport ever since.

Since the 2002/03 season, Li has won ten World Cup stage titles, ten runner-up positions and three third position finishes. She was also China's first freestyle aerials world champion at the 2005 World Championships in Ruka, Finland.

Here in Turin, she lost the opportunity to become the youngest grand slam aerialist with titles in the World Cup, World Championships and Winter Olympic Games, but has gained valuable experience.

"Compared with the last Olympics, I have grown more mature with both my skills and psychological make-up," said Li. "The pressure before the Games has turned into confidence and I'm not disappointed with the silver medal."

Li's next goal is to raise the difficulty level.

"Since I injured my waist last December, I stopped practicing the jumps of higher difficulty levels," Li said. "After the Olympics, I will try the movement with 3.900 difficulty level, which I planned to jump at the finals but gave up at the last minute as I was not sure of success."

Strong back-up

With the help of two Canadian coaches - Wilson, the skills coach and Lucinda Thomson, the physicals coach - China has nurtured an abundance of talents in the women's freestyle aerials team besides silver medallist Li.

But for that fall on the second jump, 22-year-old Guo would have been a strong contender for the gold medal at the Games this time.

"I felt a little disappointed since I believed I would land steadily," said Guo, who has the highest degree of difficulty for jumps in the team. "But I have no regrets. I have tried my best. In the 2010 Vancouver Games, I promise to get the gold medal back."

Besides the four finalists during this year's Games, all of whom are World Cup title holders, the two substitutes - Cheng Shuang and Zhang Xin - were also strong contenders.

Nineteen-year-old Cheng was runner-up at the World Cup Mount Buller stage last September, while Zhang, 21, finished second at the Changchun stop.

"The freestyle skiing aerials is the event that fits the Chinese skier very well," said Yang Erqi, who has been coaching the aerials team for 11 years.

"We have already built a strong base and if we continue our efforts, we will do better next time."

(China Daily February 24, 2006)

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