Sports / China

Primed for the ride of a lifetime

By Yang Xinwei (China Daily) Updated: 2015-12-04 08:08

Hua Tian carries China's hopes for Olympic glory at Rio Games

Alex Hua Tian is galloping down the back stretch to the Rio Olympics.

Though qualifications won't be finalized until March, Hua, who at 18 became the first Chinese equestrian athlete to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Games and the youngest rider to compete, has built a big enough lead over the rest of the field in the F-G region to assure he will ride in Brazil next summer.

"I had an excellent year with my horses. Pilot C (also in his stable are Don Geniro and Diamond Sundance) had three really strong results in three European stops, meaning I am now No 1 in qualifying competition for F-G with only one month of competition in Europe remaining," Hua said.

Joined by his father, Hua Shan, who served as interpreter at a Tuesday media gathering in Beijing, the 25-year-old apologized for not speaking Chinese.

"But there is light at the end of the tunnel as I will start Chinese lessons next week," he said. "Three hours of lessons every week. By the time I go to Rio, hopefully I will be able to answer all your questions in Chinese!"

Hua is equally confident about the upcoming F-G regional qualifiers.

"I think my current position is unassailable," he said. "Not only have I secured my individual qualification, I am part of the strongest Chinese team since the Beijing Games."

Born in London to a Chinese father and a British mother, Hua started riding at age four while living in Beijing and later Hong Kong. When he was 11, his family moved to Wiltshire, where he attended Chafyn Grove School, followed by Eton College.

Hua is the only Chinese rider competing internationally. He took a year out from his studies at Eton to prepare for the 2008 Olympics, and narrowly missed qualifying for the 2012 Games in London.

Hua told BBC last year that he feels "very Chinese in the British countryside and very British when in China. I feel very, very Chinese and am proud to compete for China ... especially in a sport where, historically, we haven't had a presence at all."

Primed for the ride of a lifetime

Hua knows he will have the backing of 1.4 billion Chinese in Rio, even though equestrian sports are largely regarded as an elitist extravagance in a country where Party members were recently censured for playing golf.

"That's an image that I don't think the sport is ever going to shrug off," Hua said. "And in fact it probably is an asset. Don't forget, royal families around the world are involved in equestrian sports.

"Equestrian has a glorious image, but the cost is not even a fraction of mainstream sports like Formula One racing or running a football club like Manchester United."

Hua contends the sport is readily accessible in China, as evidenced by its growing popularity.

"Facilities in Beijing and Shanghai offer inexpensive riding lessons, but you really have to compete at a top level to feel the excitement of equestrian and the partnership between horse and rider," he said.

As for his preparations for Rio, Hua said practice makes perfect.

"Before Rio, my horses will have three different programs for what they need to peak at the right time for the Olympics," he said.

Olympic rules stipulate that competitors can bring only one mount. Hua said Pilot C is extremely experienced, while Don Geniro is the opposite and will be playing catch-up in March.

"I'm really looking forward to March," said Hua.

"As for my goal for the Rio Olympics, I have as good a chance as anyone else of being competitive. But there are so many things that can go wrong between now and then, so I don't really want to think about it."

 Primed for the ride of a lifetime

Alex Hua Tian on his way to winning silver at the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea. It was China's first equestrian medal in a major international competition. Fei Maohua / Xinhua

(China Daily 12/04/2015 page23)

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