Behind the scenes with China’s young skeleton team
China’s young skeleton team are preparing for the Olympic Winter Games in the best possible environment at the Shenyang Olympic Sports Centre, while building work on the Yanqing Sliding Centre, which will be used for Beijing 2022, continues in the mountains. The host country of the next Winter Games has every intention of entering high-performance male and female athletes in three years’ time.
The legacy of the Olympic Summer Games Beijing 2008 – in terms of competitive and recreational sport, culture and entertainment – is clearly visible in the Chinese capital, be it in the shape of the Olympic Park facilities or the redeveloped zone around the Wukesong multipurpose centre. Both venues will be used again for the 2022 Winter Games.
And then there is the Shenyang Olympic Sports Centre, the complex that contains the magnificent stadium that was built for the football tournament at the Games of the XXIX Olympiad. In addition to the stadium, which has a capacity of 60,000 spectators, the complex includes a 10,000-seat gymnasium, a 4,000-seat swimming centre and a 4,000-seat tennis centre. And it is being used as a training facility for a number of Chinese athletes and teams, including China’s first-ever skeleton team, which was set up in 2015. The young athletes are training on the flat on rails, working towards mastering the all-important “running push” phase and dive onto the sled.
Meanwhile, the Olympic bobsleigh, luge and skeleton track is currently being built in the Xiaohaituo mountain area in Yanqing, located 74km north-west of the Chinese capital. The track will be adjacent to the slopes that will be used for the Alpine skiing events, and the athletes will have an Olympic Village on site.
The shape of the track at the National Sliding Centre has been designed to resemble that of a dragon. The facility will follow the mountain’s flanks, covering an area of 125 937m2 with a 127m vertical drop. The track will be 1.9km long and include 16 curves. Everything is being done with sustainability and the environment in mind. After the Beijing 2022 Games, the Sliding Centre will become the training facility for the Chinese national teams, and will be looking to host international competitions.
As they wait for the chance to take to the Olympic ice track, the Chinese skeleton team are training on a daily basis. A talent identification campaign was launched to put the team together; long jumper Geng Wenqiang, for example, was selected because of the quality of his five-step start. He is now the national team captain and considers himself “lucky to have become a skeleton racer”. Every effort is being made to get these young athletes up to a level of performance that will, potentially, see them challenge for glory in three years’ time.
Geng recalls the day, not so long ago, when he went down a real ice track for the first time. “It was abroad. I was very, very nervous, because the sport was totally new for me. Having said that, I overcame my fear having trained for a year. And I enjoyed my first run. Now, I absolutely love the sport.” He competed at the PyeongChang 2018 Games and finished 13th, but as the 22-year-old puts it: “That was just the start.” Geng is currently representing China at the IBSF World Cup, and is progressing with each race.
The Shenyang training centre is but one step away from the new facilities currently under construction in Yanqing. In skeleton, luge and bobsleigh, China looks set to become a force to be reckoned with in just a few years from now. That, too, will be part of the legacy of the Beijing 2022 Winter Games.