Chinese speed skaters make breakthroughs at World Cup
Published: Nov 19, 2023 10:49 PM
Photo: Courtesy of the organizing committee

Photo: Courtesy of the organizing committee

Chinese speed skaters made some breakthroughs at the speed skating World Cup in Beijing over the weekend, as they totaled two silver and four bronze medals in the three-day competition.

Ning Zhongyan has become the marquee name for the Chinese speed skating team this year as he bagged one silver and two bronze medals in all three races he participated in. Female skater Han Mei is also a big contributor as she claimed one silver and one bronze medals. 

The National Speed Skating Oval, replaced its ice for the first time after hosting the Winter Olympics last year, has been dubbed the "fastest ice" as it witnessed the breaking of 10 Olympic records last year. 

"I was a bit nervous when competing at the Olympics here last year, but now I am just enjoying the race," Ning told reporters. "I think I didn't fail to live up to the fans' expectations, but I do hope I can change the color of my medal at the next World Cup event."

In the women's race, Han's result in the 1,500 meters of 1:55.92 was just 0.4 seconds short of Japanese veteran Miho Takagi, who bagged three individual medals at the Beijing 2022 Olympics. Han's teammate Li Qishi finished third.

"Different from competing at the Olympics, now we have fans cheering for us, which is a booster for me," Han told reporters, noting she has set herself the goal of stepping onto the podium at the Milan 2026 Olympics.

The last time a Chinese female skater entered the top three in the 1,500 meters event was during the 1999-2000 season, when Song Li achieved third place in the Netherlands. 

Li Yan, head coach of the national speed skating team, said though the team is preparing for its ultimate goal of the Milan 2026 Winter Olympics, participating in the World Cup events has made the goal "clearer."

"Every four years we are preparing for one thing (the Winter Olympics), but this year our goals are clearer, which is to improve our results and rankings," she told reporters. 

"Every athlete, regardless of their current level, is finding their shortcomings and areas to improve. More importantly, we are consolidating the spirit of the entire team, using the team's strength to achieve breakthroughs and support each other."

Compared to speed skating's brother, the discipline short track, which has become a popular event thanks to China's medal haul in the discipline, the oval races are relatively less influential, as it totaled only two gold medals in China's seven entries into Winter Olympics. 

While in recent years China has seen success in shorter distance speed skating, particularly with Zhang Hong and Gao Tingyu winning gold in the 500 meters events at the Sochi 2014 and Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, respectively, the country has struggled in mid-to-long-distance events, which makes breakthroughs like those of Ning and Han more significant.

Despite not participating in the previous season and lacking World Cup ranking points, Gao, who recently returned, finished just a place short for a podium finish in Beijing. But coach Li expressed satisfaction with his recovery. 

"Gao's smooth return is the first step. The fans have high expectations for him, but after all, he hasn't participated in formal competitions for over 20 months," Li told reporters. 

"Being able to move to the top group is a stable first step, and he just needs to do his best."