The story behind China's Olympic aspirations
With a home Olympics around the corner, we find out what's happening in Shougang.
With less than 1000 days until the Olympic Winter Games begin in Beijing, it’s safe to say China is serious about their intention to capture curling medals.
While the Curling World Cup Grand Final was taking place at the Shougang Arena, the Chinese Curling Association’s athletes were plying away at their trade just next door in the newly-built curling hall, where they have been training for the season.
Inside the hall lies four sheets of ice, with dozens of motivated curlers who have the hunger and determination to create history.
More than 300 million people in China have been tasked with taking up a winter sport ahead of 2022, and it appears curling has benefitted tremendously from this. The Chinese Curling Association has employed three former Canadian curlers: Mike Harris, Carolyn Darbyshire-McRorie and Perry Marshall – all of whom have won Olympic medals themselves.
Harris, a silver medallist 21 years ago in Nagano, has been a part of the Chinese training programme this season and is excited by the ability that’s been on display thus far.
“We have spent ten months training here at the Shougang Centre while staying a stone’s throw away from the venue – the hotel across the road,” says Harris.
“They are constantly putting in the work and our job has been to implement a training schedule to fit that.
“They’ve had plenty of struggles in recent years but the goal for us as a coaching team is to provide them with the confidence and ability to express themselves.
“Technically, they are all incredibly impressive, but the experience of big games and their thinking is constantly improving.”
The culmination of ten months’ work was showcased in Beijing’s Curling World Cup Grand Final with strong performances from the women’s and men’s teams – with the latter foursome reaching the final, a first for China in the Curling World Cup.
At the Shougang Arena, the men’s team – skipped by Dexin Ba – defeated the four-time world champions Team Niklas Edin and Olympic gold medallists Team John Shuster, as well as the Jonkoping leg winners Team Matt Dunstone. A Chinese sports official, Lei Yi, believes the country’s newfound love for curling stems from it being one of the “very few teams sports” at the Winter Olympics.
Yi notes that in Chinese culture they “always advocate to put your country’s interest over your personal interest, and your team’s interest over your personal interest.”
The training centre in the former industrial area of Shougang has seen dozens of curlers from across the country come together. Ba explained the benefit of the facilities and the impact of the Curling World Cup in its inaugural season.
“The best thing about training in Shougang Training Centre is that everything is so well-prepared here and the ice is so good, so we’re just concentrating on ourselves,” says Ba.
“Our Canadian coaches came with a lot of new training methods for us to learn, among which I think the most important part is how to communicate in a more detailed way than we did before.
“We have been honoured to represent China, and that’s exactly what we’re looking forward to doing in 2022. Hopefully we can make it to the Olympics and promote curling further in China.
Despite the men’s team falling short at the last hurdle against Team Kevin Koe in the final, Ba insists they are beginning to profit from the experiences gained in the Curling World Cup’s debut season.
“It’s great to gain experiences in the other three Curling World Cup legs and at the Grand Final. We learned so much about the ice around the world, the best teams we played against and the improvements we should make, which is really helping us now.
The women’s skip, Yilun Jiang, echoed Ba’s views and elaborated on how living across the road from the arena has assisted her team.
“Shougang Training Centre is the first professional training centre for curling in China, and it’s really good to be training here,” says Jiang. “I think training and living here enables us to balance curling and life perfectly, which helps us a lot to improve our performance.
“Our Canadian coaches have brought us a lot of new angles for our training and competitions, and their experiences really helped our approach to games. We’re enjoying learning from them and putting what we’ve learned into practices and games.
“We do feel motivated but also a little pressured. It’s been our goal to represent China in the 2022 Olympics and get good results there.”