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China's National Winter Games spurs growth of ice-snow sports, industry

Source:Xinhua 2024-02-18

This photo taken on Feb. 14, 2024 shows a snow sulpture outside of the main halls of the China's 14th National Winter Games in Hulunbuir, north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. (Xinhua/Lian Zhen)

Two years after the Beijing Winter Olympics, the ripple effects of its legacy continued to grow, fueled by the Chinese 14th National Winter Games.

by Sportswriters Yue Wenwan and Wang Chunyan

HOHHOT, Feb. 17 (Xinhua) -- China's ice-snow sports and industry will receive a boost from the Chinese 14th National Winter Games, which opens in north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region on Saturday night.

As the nation's first comprehensive winter sports event after Beijing 2022, the games will feature more than 3,700 athletes in 176 events across eight sports and became the largest edition in the history of the National Winter Games.

Two years after the Beijing Winter Olympics, the ripple effects of its legacy continued to grow, fueled by the National Winter Games. This has led to improved athletic achievements, a booming winter sports industry, and the public's growing enthusiasm for ice-and-snow sports and related tourism.

"The 14th National Winter Games will further consolidate the goal of engaging 300 million people in winter sports, a goal set when Beijing won the Olympic bid in 2015. It will also serve as a drill for our athletes to sharpen the competitive edge for the 2026 Winter Olympics," said Ding Tao, an official with China's General Administration of Sport.

Li Xuantong(R)/Wang Xinkang of team Beijing perform during the ice dance free dance of junior group at the China's 14th National Winter Games in Hulun Buir, north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Jan. 19, 2024. (Xinhua/Lian Zhen)


Historically, Chinese tourists have preferred to spend their winter holidays in the warmer south. However, the ongoing Spring Festival has seen a rise in ice-and-snow tourism, especially in Hulunbuir, the host city of the National Winter Games' ice sports events.

For the first time in her life, Zhang Ruiyang from Hebei Province spent her Spring Festival holiday in Hulunbuir, which is over a thousand miles away from her home.

Fourteen-year-old Zhang, a fan of star speed skater Lin Xiaojun, saw her winter dream come to life in Hulunbuir. Her parents had planned an immersive experience for her and her brother, scheduling to attend the short track speed skating competitions which started prior to the official opening of the games.

"I've practiced short-track speed skating for a year and a half, and I really adore Lin Xiaojun. I'm very happy that my parents and my brother all accompanied me to achieve my wish of watching Lin's races on site," said Zhang.

Winter usually spans seven months in Hulunbuir with temperatures plummeting well below minus twenty degrees Celsius, and the season is usually not a good time for tourism. This year, however, some scenic spots were operated for the first time in winter.

Bat Suh, a 50-year-old local herdsman, has been involved in tourism for 12 years. He describes this winter as the busiest he has experienced. "The impact of the '14th Winter Games' is very apparent. This winter, we have seen an increase in tourists, as well as many activities," he noted.

Apart from the booming winter tourism, such winter sports events have also spurred the construction of infrastructure and better promoted the sports in China.

Zhang Kai, a veteran roller skater in Hohhot, the capital city of Inner Mongolia, tried ice skating for the first time this year. "I used to stop roller skating in winter as the ground iced over. But inspired by the National Winter Games, I realized that I could have fun on the rinks," said the 73-year-old.

Zhang is a member of a local roller skating team, where most members are aged above 60, and nearly 40 of them have engaged in winter sports this year.

"There are more and more rinks in Hohhot, and some provide discounts for those over 60 years old. It's great that everyone, regardless of age, can enjoy winter sports," he said.

Moreover, the frenzy of winter sports has overcome the obstacles of climate and geography, reaching the cities and towns that seldom see snow all year round.

The sports gala also inspired Inner Mongolia to make better use of its abundant ice-and-snow resources. "We plan to develop the ice-and-snow equipment manufacturing industry in the future. We'll cooperate with universities and research institutes to build test bases for ice and snow equipment in extreme-cold regions. It can also help us transform and upgrade our industries," said Xuan Mingmei, head of the Ice and Snow Industry Research Institute of Hailar District, Hulunbuir.

Wang Qiang of Chongqing competes during the cross-country skiing men's 15km+15km skiathlon of the China's 14th National Winter Games in Ulanqab, north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Feb. 14, 2024. (Xinhua/Zhao Zishuo)


The 14th National Winter Games will feature events in line with the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Olympics.

Earlier this week, cross-country skier Wang Qiang earned the gold medal with a 17.1-second lead over the runner-up, Liu Rongsheng, in the men's 7.5 km skiathlon event at the National Winter Games.

To prepare for the national games, Wang, who twice broke China's record in the event, has been training in Norway since last September, and continually improved by competing with top athletes of the world.

His hard work paid off, as he grabbed three golds in the national cross-country skiing events last year.

Elsewhere, Olympic champion Gu Ailing won at the FIS Women's Freeski Halfpipe World Cup held in China's Chongli last December. "It feels great. In the second and third runs, I chose to try some actions that I haven't successfully done in training," she said.

Gu Ailing competes during the women's halfpipe final at FIS Freeski World Cup in Zhangjiakou, north China's Hebei Province, Dec. 9, 2023. (Xinhua/Yang Shiyao)

"Generally speaking, China had a relatively weak foundation in winter sports, while Beijing 2022 provided us with a historic chance to accelerate our progress in developing China as a powerful country in ice and snow sports," said Zhu Chengyi, a former official with China's General Administration of Sport.

Two years ago, China notched up nine gold, four silver, and two bronze medals to rank third in Beijing 2022, with the number of gold and total medals marking record highs in its Olympic Winter Games history.

Figure skating and snowboard have also attracted more and more youngsters, further enlarging China's talent pool. The Chinese Figure Skating Association has lowered the threshold of the national level test, making it possible for beginners to take the beginning level test after three to six months of training.

Data showed that the number of national-level testers saw an increase of 77.94 percent in 2023 compared to the year of 2021. 

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