Winter sports are about as popular in China as Shinzo Abe, but fans who pay attention know that the country has some top gold-medal contenders.
China sent 66 athletes to Sochi this year, 28 fewer than it sent to the Vancouver Games in 2010, where Chinese athletes took home a total of 11 medals, five of which were gold, and helped China rank seventh in global medal standings.
Chinese athletes are infamously in the pressure cooker of the country’s intense state-sponsored sports machine which focuses on winning medals for national glory. Somewhat intimidating slogans on the walls of Chinese training facilities include “The Motherland Is Above Everything; Strike for Gold in the Olympics” and “Pressure each other. Pressure yourself.”
Regardless of the pressure, China’s got talent this year and is projected to win eight medals, according to Wall Street Journal calculations.
Four-time Olympian Li Nina, former gymnast Xu Mengtao and Cheng Shuang are among the favorites in the women’s freestyle skiing aerials event. Li was a silver medalist from the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and Xu is the reigning world champion. Cheng won the gold medal at the 2011 FIS Freestyle World Ski Championships.
China’s men’s aerial team also has medal threats with Liu Zhongqing, who won bronze in Vancouver, Jia Zongyang, a two-time World Cup champion, and Qi Guangpu, a 2013 FIS Freestyle World Ski Championships gold medalist.
Vancouver silver medalists Pang Qing and Tong Jian, both 34 and originally from Harbin, return to the Olympics as strong medal contenders in pairs figure skating. The two, who have been skating together for over 20 years, are two-time World Champions and five-time Four Continents champions.
Wang Meng, China’s star short track speed skater who won three golds in Vancouver four years ago, broke her ankle in training and is out of this year’s Winter Olympics, reported the Christian Science Monitor. Wang, on her own, accounted for more than half of China’s gold medals in Vancouver.
Fan Kexin, nicknamed Shadow of Wang Meng, according to her Olympic profile, will carry China’s hopes in the short track events. She finished second in the 500-meter World Cup standings last season. Zhou Yang, who earned gold at Vancouver in the 1,500 meter and relay events, is another medal prospect.
Men’s short track sensation Han Tianyu, 17, won silver in the 1,500 meter speed skating event on Monday, China’s first medal at the Sochi Winter Olympics. Han, ranked 11th after the 2013-2014 season, equaled the best ever result by a Chinese men’s short tracker at the Olympics, said Xinhua.
“I had never thought I could make it to the finals, let alone stand on the podium,” Han told reporters. “I took every round as my final, and tried my best to compete.” It is guaranteed that Han will return to China as a national hero.
Some of China’s most hopeful winners, the team of female curlers Wang Bingyu, Liu Yin, Yue Qingshuang, Zhou Yan, who won bronze at the Vancouver Olympics, lost its first match to Canada 9-2 on the first day of round robin competition. Each team plays nine matches with the top four teams advancing to the medal tournament, so China still has a chance.
The 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic games began this weekend, with Xi Jinping making an appearance at the opening ceremony on Saturday. It was the first time that a Chinese head of state attended a major international sporting event held outside China. The Sochi games will conclude on February 23.
According to state-owned media, China has won a total of nine gold medals, 18 silver medals and 17 bronze medals over the previous nine Winter Olympic Games, or since it began participating in 1980.
China also announced that Beijing and Zhangjiakou will jointly bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, competing against Almaty in Kazakhstan, Poland’s Krakow, Lviv in Ukraine and Oslo, Norway.
The next Winter Games take place in South Korean’s Pyeongchang and the 2020 summer games will be held in Tokyo.
For the record, Hong Kong sent one athlete to Sochi, a short track speed skater named Barton Lui.
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