He's looking for happy landings

Updated: 2015-12-08 08:02

By Sun Xiaochen(China Daily)

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China's daredevil pioneer ready to take on the world

Falling helps make China's leading snowboard daredevil, He Wei, more determined to reach the pinnacle of his extreme sport.

Standing atop the daunting 16-story ramp at the Bird's Nest in his third Air and Style contest in Beijing, He seemed as composed as any of the world's top competitors at the World Snowboard Tour's Big Air six-star event.

But bravado could not compensate for his lack of serious big-time experience, and poor landings killed He's chance of advancing beyond the preliminary stages of the Beijing event for the first time since 2013.

The 25-year-old took it all in stride and is upbeat about his progress in catching up with the world's best from Europe and North America as he sees a growing upsurge in snowboarding among Chinese youth.

"Ten years ago you could hardly spot a snowboarder from a skier at a resort in Beijing's (outer) suburbs. Now more and more young people have embraced snowboarding as a new fashion in winter and they are taking it seriously," said He, who started ski training at 14 in Shenyang, Liaoning province.

As one of the first generation of China's slope-style boarders, He had very limited training resources and had to learn tricks from online video clips of overseas talent.

More than a decade ago China's winter sports authority put together a national team of half-pipers to compete at the Winter Olympics, but few among He's peers received support from the State system because slope-style and big air events were not included in the national program back then.

"It took me a long time to progress because I had no one to learn from. I could only use guidance from the Internet and learned by tumbling over and over again," said He, dubbed 'Little Tiger' among his peers for his boldness.

After years of dedication, He's efforts paid off in 2011 when he finished eighth at the Red Bull Open, a current five-star WST slope-style event, at Beijing's Nanshan Ski Resort. It remains the best result achieved by a Chinese boarder on the WST.

He then enhanced his reputation by becoming the first Chinese to land a double cork 900, a benchmark stunt of flipping two and half twists in the air, at his Air and Style debut in Beijing in 2013.

As the new face of Chinese snowboarding, He secured endorsement deals from Red Bull and equipment brand Burton, which has allowed him to become a full-time professional and gives him the opportunity to train overseas and compete in more than 10 events annually around the world.

"I have more freedom (compared to half-pipe athletes nurtured in the State-run system), but I am also expecting the country to form a national team in slope-style so I can have the chance to compete at the Olympics," said He.

Accepted by the Olympics at the 1998 Nagano Games, snowboarding will feature five disciplines, including giant slalom, slope-style and recently-added big air at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

When Beijing won the right to host the 2022 Winter Olympics in July, He's Olympic dream for advancing the sport in his homeland became a reality when the country's winter sports administration vowed to explore new frontiers in less well-known events - including snowboarding.

"I will be too old for the 2022 Olympics at home, but I will give it a serious try for 2018," He said.

"Being able to represent my country at the Olympics will be a perfect finale for my career."

Despite being a low-profile presence on the international stage, He has earned plaudits from the upper echelon of snowboarding for his rapid progress.

"The first time I saw him (in 2012) he had some troubles with his tricks, but then he landed his first double cork, which was really cool to see," said Norwegian Emil Ulsletten, the slope-style bronze medalist at 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

"He is a superstar in Chinese snowboarding.

"His progression is really good. He is a very nice guy and has been embraced by our group."

Mixing thrills with the chill

The Air and Style snowboarding competition in Beijing helps raise the profile of winter sports in China while thrilling fans with spectacular aerial stunts.

Energized by live rock music at the iconic Bird's Nest stadium, 16 elite riders from around the world performed some high-flying tricks off a 46-meter ramp in Saturday's final of Air and Style Beijing, a World Snowboard Tour six-star event.

He's looking for happy landings

Nailing two perfect tricks featuring multiple flips in the three-jump final round, Canadian Maxance Parrot claimed the title and collected the champion's purse of $100,000 as well as 1,000 WST ranking points. His compatriot, Mark McMorris, finished second while Sven Thorgren of Sweden placed third.

Japanese boarder Yuki Kadono, the only Asian to reach the final, landed a challenging backside triple cork 1620 mute, on his second run. The trick won over the judges andthe 19-year-old was awarded the Best Trick Award and $5,000 in prize money, presented by event sponsor Red Bull.

Introduced in Beijing in 2010, the event has played a positive role in demonstrating the Chinese capital's capacity to host international winter sports competitions, which helped convince the International Olympic Committee to award Beijing the 2022 Winter Games, said organizers.

"I am sure having this event over the last five years worked toward the Olympic decision. I know the IOC wants to see an event here ... to have a competition right in the middle of town so you can create awareness of winter sports for people in the city," said Andrew Hourmont, founder of the Air and Style World Series.

"I think overall, the Olympics coming to China is a fantastic way for China to promote winter sports and healthy lifestyles to the next generation. I am happy to see it coming," Hourmont said.

Hai Zhenwen, director of Beijing Sports Competitions Administration Center, said the organizational experience gained through the event, especially expertise in building artificial snow slopes, will benefit the Winter Olympics operations in Beijing.

"It's like a rehearsal for something bigger ... to gain the experience and to work on technical details for the 2022 Olympics," said Hai.

Beijing has extended its partnership with Air and Style for another five editions, according to Hai.

Meanwhile, the energy inside the Bird's Nest, along with the boisterous crowd reaction, impressed the riders.

"The energy is really sick (good). I have been here so many times. This year we had a pretty good crowd. It was fun to be on top (of the ramp) and hear everybody cheer," said Parrot.


 He's looking for happy landings

China's He Wei competes during the preliminary round of the Air and Style competition in Beijing on Friday.Below:A boarder nails his landing during Saturday's final. Provided To China Daily

He's looking for happy landings

(China Daily 12/08/2015 page24)