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National Winter Games put icing on Olympic legacy

Sports' popularity boosted across country, thanks to wider representation at event

By SUN XIAOCHEN | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2024-02-28 07:13
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Thousands of people enjoy themselves on the waterfront of the Hanjiang River, a major tributary of the Yangtze River, in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, on Saturday after several days of heavy snowfall across the city. CHEN ZHUO/FOR CHINA DAILY

Taking advantage of the Beijing 2022 Olympics' legacy, the 14th National Winter Games have delivered another huge boost to the popularity and status of winter sports in China.

With thrills and chills over 10 days, China's highest-level winter sports gala capped its largest-ever staging in Hulunbuir, Inner Mongolia autonomous region, on Tuesday to widespread acclaim.

For the first time in its history, the games, which were delayed due to the pandemic, saw a broad representation of the country's demographics. A record number of over 3,700 athletes from 35 delegations, including provinces from the warm southern regions, competed in Hulunbuir and the co-host cities. Since being launched in 1959, the games had only been a "regional "meet of city teams, mostly from the snowy northeastern provinces.

This year, there was also a record 176 medal events after China's sports governing body expanded the program. The expansion was in line with changes to the Olympic format to give Chinese athletes a head start in their preparations for the 2026 Milano Cortina Winter Olympics in Italy.

The larger-than-expected participation, coupled with impressive performances by young athletes whose talents were nurtured in emerging winter sports provinces, has borne witness to the progress of ice and snow sports in China.

The project to boost interest in winter sports was launched before Beijing 2022, with a boom triggered by the home Olympics. The domestic games offered yet another opportunity to keep the momentum going, especially with regional supporters who could cheer on their own athletes.

"Hosting the national games on a bigger scale and involving more athletes — despite being delayed from its original schedule — speaks volumes for the home Olympics' influence on the promotion of winter sports," Zhang Xin, director of athletic competitions at the General Administration of Sport of China, said on Sunday.

"The much-improved performances of athletes hailing from regions such as the central and southern provinces, where skating and skiing used to be only niche choices for sporting activities due to the climate limitations, was particularly encouraging.

"It proves that we are on the right track developing into a more balanced winter sports power and taking advantage of the legacy of Beijing 2022," he said.

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