Hockey star keeps world's focus here

Updated: 2015-08-01 07:25

By Sun Xiaochen(China Daily)

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Competing in the Olympic Games at home is no doubt a unique experience, once in a lifetime, appealing to any athlete around the world.

Probably no one knows how special it feels more than former National Basketball Association star Yao Ming.

As arguably the most recognized Chinese athlete globally, Yao's towering presence as the host's flag bearer at the grand opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics left an indelible mark in his career as well as a long-lasting memory for sports fans worldwide.

With Beijing winning its bid to host the 2022 Olympic Winter Games and Paralympic Games on Friday, the special honor of becoming an Olympian at home this time around is likely to fall upon Beijing-born teenager Song Andong, the first Chinese player to be drafted by a team in North America's National Hockey League and the new poster boy for Beijing's 2022 campaign.

Despite fatigue due to jet lag, Song's face lit up when asked about the chance to play in the 2022 Winter Games.

"It's definitely the highlight of my career - playing in the Olympics where I grew up. I think that's the best feeling an athlete can have," he said.

Hockey star keeps world's focus here

Song's interaction with Yao and his salute to the global audience offstage on Friday signified the arrival of a new era in which China shifts its sporting focus from medal-winning summer events to fun winter sports.

As the 2008 Olympics opened a window to China for the world, the 2022 Winter Games will again present a vibrant image of a changing China to the West.

Since Song was picked by the New York Islanders in June, the 18-year-old Song, who moved to Canada for hockey training at age 10, has been billed as the NHL's answer to Yao, carrying hefty expectations to emulate what the giant has done for basketball in the hockey arena.

Still, the size of the challenge Song faces to raise the competitive level of another US professional sport single-handedly - especially given the less-popular status of the sport - was illustrated as he stood next to his towering 2.26-meter-tall countryman in the convention hall in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

But Beijing's landing of the world's most prestigious winter sports gala will provide a timely boost to the popularity of winter sports, which has already taken off in China.

As a die-hard skiing fan myself, the scenes of ski enthusiasts waiting in long lines for cable rides to the top of the run during my first time skiing at a resort in a west Beijing suburb in December 2013 remain as fresh as yesterday.

Strolling around in major city malls in Beijing today, it's normal to spot an indoor ice rink, where kids from kindergarten on up learn and enjoy figure skating and hockey for physical exercise and recreation.

Perhaps few of them will develop into medal-winning Olympians like their mighty predecessors, but the momentum of the Olympic spirit remains as strong and alive as ever.

(China Daily 08/01/2015 page2)