19 golds not enough to be carried away

Updated: 2007-02-05 08:42

CHANGCHUN, Northeast China - Nineteen gold medals are great enough for celebration, but not good enough to be carried away in any simple sense, said Chinese sports officials here Sunday when the 6th Asian Winter Games had its curtain rolled down.

Athletes and spectators watch the national flag raising ceremony at the closing ceremony of the 6th Winter Asian Games in Changchun of Northeast China. [Xinhua]

China reaped the gains from investing in experienced foreign coaches and a policy of "studying abroad" when the women speedskaters brought in five golds, compared to a lonely one from the last Games in Aomori, Japan in 2003.

Wang Beixing, coached by Canadian Kevin Crockett and trained abroad for the past years, set up Asian marks to win both the women's 100m and 500m while Xing Aihua, also training in Canada, had the 100m glory.

Wang Fei, under the guidance of former Canadian national coach Arno Hoogveld, pulled off 1,500m and 3,000m victories.

"In the past few years, we have more communication between the Chinese speedskaters and their foreign colleagues. That is why our athletes have made progress so much faster," said Liu Xiaonong, deputy secretary-general of the Chinese delegation.

The short-track speedskating rink saw Olympic champions from China and South Korea slugging it out as China managed to level the score at 4-4 from their 6-1 loss to the Asian neighbors in the Turin Olympic Games last year.

But Liu warned that no one should get light-headed by the score.

"We split the golds with South Korea but in reality, we are not as strong as them, especially in the long distance races," said Liu. "Don't forget the fact that we were fighting on home soil."

Turin Olympic champion Wang Meng won the 500m as expected and led the women's team to grab the 3,000m relay title. Success came unexpectedly when Sui Baoku overcame South Korea's triple Olympic champion Ahn Hyun-Soo in the men's 1,500m and Hu Ze dealt him another blow in the 500m when Ahn was disqualified for a controversial foul.

Twice Olympic bronze medalists Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo eased to their pairs title in figure skating and Xu Min was crowned in the men's singles.

Cheers for Changchun spectators' sweethearts Shen and Zhao had not died down when concerns over their impending retirement were raised.

"It is still too early to talk about their successors because we are trying to persuade them to stay on for a few more years," said head coach Yao Bin.

The pair repeatedly expressed their hope to "leave the national team temporarily after the World Championships in March." Shen reached 28 and Zhao will turn 34 seven months later.

It was an unexpected strong performance on the snow that pushed the Chinese legion to the top of the medals tally.

China bagged two titles, both from biathlon, in Aomori where they finished third behind Japan and South Korea with nine golds in total.

But when the Games moved to Jilin, one of the two host cities, host skiers claimed a total of eight out of 21 on offer.

"We have made breakthrough in some snow sports at the Games but there are definitely big rooms left for improvement," said Wang Yitao, secretary general of the Chinese delegation.

"Japan and Kazakhstan are traditional powerhouses in snow sports. We are trying our best to catch up with them," he added.

China enjoyed a sweet victory in the women's cross-country sprint race, which was marked as a historic win.

"It is the first cross-country gold for China in any individual events at the Winter Asiad," said winner Wang Chunli. "It is a confidence boost for us."

Biathlon became a gold bonanza in Jilin as five went to China, including a clean sweep of four women's events and the first title for men, in the 4x7.5km, at the sixth Winter Games.

"I am happy for the whole team," said German Klaus Siebert who took the helm of the Chinese biathlon team six months ago. "Chinese women biathletes are strong in Asia. We are here to win."

The two golds from the freestyle skiing aerials were within expectation as Han Xiaopeng won the men's Olympic title and Li Nina got the women's silver in Turin last year. Both events were not included in the last Games but added by the hosts.

"We are at the world level only in some events, and for most of them, China lag far behind," said Xiao. China took home two golds, four silvers and five bronzes from the Turin Winter Olympics.

"What we achieved here can't be interpreted in any sense that we will have a sure bet in the Olympics. We have to keep working hard," he said.

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