83-year-old Chinese national ski champion starts his life-long hobby as sheep herder
Published: Nov 08, 2021 01:33 AM
Photo: Courtesy of Han Tongyuan/

Han Tongyuan Photo: Courtesy of Han Tongyuan/

Growing up in Northeast China's Jilin Province, the 83-year-old national ski champion, Han Tongyuan, who has been going down the slopes for more than half a century, had his wish come true by the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games.

As the public is amazed by the snow and start to prepare for the sudden severe cold snap, Han is fully prepared for his winter ski season for another year. He had his snowboard waxed and bought the pre-sale ski tickets to go downhill every detail with his skiing squad.

"I will skate all morning every day," Han, who has been rolling skating to maintain himself in good shape, told China News Service .

Talking about the approaching Beijing Olympic Winter Games, Han said that he would want to be present to have a close look at the games, adding that "you can only take a close look at the technical characteristics of each competitor from various countries when you are at the scene."

As a child from a family without sports tradition, the ski enthusiastic tied the knot with the ice and snow by herding sheep, a rather unrelated reason, as it requires high level of skills, especially in winter when the land is covered with snow.

In order to gather the sheep and make them go on a fixed route, Han made a handicraft wooden snowboard to "race with the running animals," and finally acquired skiing skills.

Though the equipment and training venues decades ago were not as good as they are today, Han still enjoyed the days when he was able to slide down from the hills in various ways.

"For half a year the mountains are covered with snow where we can go skiing. When spring comes, we upgrade our snowboards into grass slides and we can use on the grass in summer," said Han.

In 1957, Han registered to compete in China's first National Ski Games where the 18-year-old took the victory in the Men's 20 kilometers Cross-country ski race. He won the first place again the following year on the same event.

One of Han's biggest regret was that he was never able to hold on to his dream as a skier. In 1963, Han left Jilin Sow Sports Team after decades-long service and became a bulldozer driver.

"It's such a shame that I was never able to participate in an international winter competition," Han said.

It was not until one day in 1980, when Han met an old colleague from the team, that he was invited to return to the snow and became a professional ski instructor at a sports school in Jilin where he worked for three years. 

Each winter Han would repeat his route on the snow trials in Jilin, where the 83-year-old is still able to conquer the high-level routes. In the last three seasons, Han took off his winter equipment and wind-shield, and turned into a children's skating instructor in local parks.

"I accidentally broke my leg last year and that was the only year that I had ever missed a ski season in my life," remarked Han.