China's short track speed skating sees potential a year after Winter Olympics
A lasting legacy
Published: Apr 06, 2023 09:23 PM
Female skaters compete in the women's 1,000 meters race on April 2, 2023 in Beijing. Photo: Cui Meng/GT

Female skaters compete in the women's 1,000 meters race on April 2, 2023 in Beijing. Photo: Cui Meng/GT

China's short track speed skaters have offered the fans thrilling competitions at the national champions race last weekend, as thousands of fans flocked to the stadium a year after Beijing hosted the Winter Olympics.

It is the first time for the Capital Indoor Stadium, the venue that hosted the short track races during the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, to host professional competitions after China optimized the COVID-19 policies. 

The champions race only sold half of the tickets to the audience in the three-day competition, but the seats were nearly fully occupied on April 1 and 2 when championship races were held.

Yan Xiaojuan, deputy director of the Winter Sports Management Center, General Administration of Sport, admitted they didn't expect the enthusiasm to be so strong.

"We didn't expect so many fans coming as this is our first time hosting an event here [at the Capital Indoor Stadium] after the COVID-19 pandemic," Yan told the Global Times. 

Before Beijing hosted the Winter Olympics, China reached a milestone achievement that saw over 300 million people participate in winter sports. Yan believed the campaign deserves credit for inspiring so many fans to watch short track nowadays. 

New rule

Short track speed skating is the biggest contributor to China's Olympic gold medal haul. The sport has provided 12 gold medals in China's seven appearances at the Winter Olympics.

At the home Games in Beijing last year, the Chinese short track speed skating team won two gold, one silver and one bronze medals, a rebound from just one gold medal at the Pyeongchang Olympics in 2018. 

To maintain China's competitiveness in short track, the champions race set a disqualification time from heats to the semifinals. If a group leader failed to pass the set time, the whole group would be automatically disqualified. 

Six groups at the champions race were fresh victims under the new rule.

But the rule change has set up a new requirement for Chinese short trackers, said Yu Haiyan, another vice chief of the winter sports governing body, noting that the international development in short track has pushed the organizers to set the new rule. 

"Judging from the international competitions in recent years, especially this season, the overall level of the athletes has been greatly improved," Yu said. 

"To adapt to the international development in short track and improve the athletes' ability to cope with fierce competitions, we decided to set a minimum skating time in domestic competitions."

Avid fans

The sport's increasing popularity in China is far reaching. 

Some fans even travelled thousands of kilometers from South China's Guangdong Province, where ice and snow is extremely rare due to its geographic location, to Beijing to support their favorite skaters at the champions race. 

"I traveled all the way from Shenzhen just to watch Zang Yize compete in person," said Liang Jing who is currently a college student based in the Southern China city. "It is very encouraging to see her winning two gold medals."

Like Liang, most of the attending fans in the stadium are in their early 20s, as the sport has seized the potential to reach more young people. Some of the fans created billboards and LED boards to support the athletes. 

Though not competing at the champions race, Lin Xiaojun, who led China's men's 5,000 meters relay team to win a gold medal at the world championships in March, is among the favorite athletes inside the stadium. 

The champions race is not considered the most prestigious short track race in China, as China's Winter Olympic mixed relay gold medalists Wu Dajing, Fan Kexin, Qu Chunyu, Ren Ziwei and Zhang Yuting all sat out the competition, however, they played a key role in interacting with the fans.

There are always some fans that are reluctant to leave every race day and they wait at the entrance of the stadium, hoping to see the face of their favorite athletes. 

Xiao Ya, who traveled from Southwestern China's Sichuan Province, waited for three hours after the end of the tournament before meeting her favorite skater Song Jiarui, who claimed a gold medal in the women's relay.

"I started watching short track in 2018 though I don't skate, it's an energizing sport and motivates me to push forward," Xiao said. "Song and I are both from Sichuan, which is not a strong team in short track. I am happy she could win a medal here."

The fans' enthusiasm has also been acknowledged by the organizers, as the winter sports authority is also expecting feedback from the fans. 

"We are happy to receive feedback from the fans over the organization of the event," Yan told the Global Times. "I believe feedback is vital to making our domestic competitions even better."