Winter athletes desperate to impress on home soil

Updated: 2016-01-08 14:21

By Sun Xiaochen(China Daily USA)

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As the festive atmosphere of New Year's holiday wafted around the city of Urumqi, the sight of speedskater Rehanbai Talabuhan skimming across the ice at a suburban rink, making circle after circle, was truly impressive.

The young man, a member of the Kazak ethnic group, was among 226 athletes from the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region who have been training wholeheartedly for the 13th National Winter Games. They all have one aim: to earn glory when the event is held in the regional capital later this month.

"It's a really rare opportunity for us to be able to compete in front of our families. We are so desperate to prove that Xinjiang is a force to be reckoned with in winter sports," said the 24-year-old, who started skating at age 13.

It will be the first time the national event has been held outside of China's traditional winter sports powerhouses, the northeastern provinces of Heilongjiang and Jilin.

Winter athletes desperate to impress on home soil

Hampered by poor infrastructure and a lack of funding, Xinjiang's winter sports athletes have been unable to achieve glory at the elite level, despite the region's long tradition of winter sports and related activities.

"My goal is to win the men's 5000 meter gold medal for Xinjiang and prepare for greater goals at the 2018 Winter Olympics (to be held in Pyeongchang, South Korea)," said Rehanbai, who in 2014 became the first ethnic Kazak to be drafted into the Chinese national speedskating team.

Once the underdog of China's elite sporting scene, over the past three years Xinjiang has built a multi-ethnic team strong enough to compete at all 11 sports featured at the event, and the region's athletes are keen to demonstrate their prowess on their home turf.

The region's freestyle half-pipe skiers have recorded an impressive improvement at the competitive level, thanks to the refurbishment of the Silk Road Ski Resort in Urumqi, which provides a practice base near home, although even they have had to work hard to become accustomed to conditions at the recently refurbished facility.

"It's great to be able to practice at the competition venue for the national games. Our athletes have been adapting to the conditions, and they are all geared up to compete," said Chen Can, coach of the Xinjiang half-pipe ski team.