Fledgling Chinese Para Ice Hockey win first Paralympic bronze medal
Making history
Published: Mar 13, 2022 06:53 PM
Shen Yifeng (left) of Team China and Lee Jae-woong of Team South Korea compete during the Para Ice Hockey Bronze Medal Game on March 12, 2022 in Beijing. Photo: VCG

Shen Yifeng (left) of Team China and Lee Jae-woong of Team South Korea compete during the Para Ice Hockey Bronze Medal Game on March 12, 2022 in Beijing. Photo: VCG

China's Para Ice Hockey team beat Team South Korea to win a bronze medal during the Open Team Tournament Games at the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games on Saturday. Though they were the third team to step on the podium, the attainment of their first Paralympic medal was a history-making symbol of victory. 

Despite being "green" players who are participating in the Paralympics for the first time, the new bronze medalists performed confidently during the match, beating their opponent - 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Paralympics bronze medalists Team South Korea, 4-0. 

Team China took the initiative in the first five minutes with striker Wang Zhidong making the first goal for China at the 4 minute 6 second mark in the first period. This was later followed by a goal from striker Shen Yifeng during the second period. Things didn't end there, as Team China scored another two goals with less than two minutes on the clock left before the match ended. 

"This medal did not come easily. It is the result of all our efforts," Shen told media after the competition. 

While the victory may have appeared effortless on the ice, it was actually the result of seven years of difficult training day in and day out. 

Compared to other Para ice hockey teams such as Team Canada and Team US that are very experienced, the Chinese Para ice hockey team is relatively young having only been founded in late 2015 when China's Disabled Persons' Federation held its first Para ice hockey training camp in Northeast China's Harbin. 

Since the team's establishment, the 16 members have united together to strive for the common goal of winning a gold medal on their home turf at Beijing 2022. To achieve this goal, every single one of them have been training their hardest, putting in extra effort to narrow the gap between themselves and other veteran players in a short time.   

Cui Yutao, the 37-year-old team leader, lost his lower left leg in a car accident at the age of 18. After the accident, he did not give up on himself, becoming even more determined to be a hockey player. Skating 100 kilometers is only a part of his everyday training, and even though he fell and broke his ankle while competing, he continued training in a cast. 

"It doesn't matter that the training is hard, as long as there is an opportunity for me to compete in Beijing, every single drop of sweat was worth it," Cui told media. 

"It is the spirit and diligence of those athletes that define this 'history-making' moment for Team China. It could never be the medal or the medal's color that define the significance of this event," Wang Dazhao, a sports expert, told the Global Times. 

Wang Zhidong, born in 2000, found confidence through playing ice hockey. He fell in love with the sport when the team was established in 2015. While he had to start from scratch when it came to learning, the sport has not only made him feel more positive about life than ever, but also gave him a new title as a Paryalympic medalist. 

"It's always been my goal to represent China at the Paralympics," said Wang. 

Beside the dedication of the team's members, Russian coach Nikolay Sharshukov has been a major pillar of support for the young team. Starting to train the Chinese squad in 2017, he helped  transform the fledgling team into a new prominent force. In 2018, the team won a gold medal at the World Championship. 

"It is not odd for foreign coaches like Sharshukov to help a young team grow fast. Mainly because he has practical competition experience leading other teams, this can provide technique and strategy shortcuts for Team China," Wang Dazhao noted. 

While the tall and well-built Sharshukov is quite serious during competitions, he is also a witty and friendly figure who the team call "uncle." 

He once told media that he believes in Chinese athletes because they have a sportsman spirit, dare to fight and are united as one. 

"Excellence can only be achieved after striving for it very hard. You can never wait for glory to come," said Cui Yutao. 

"The way to success is always bumpy, but I choose to never quit."