Breaking the ice

China’s victors in Vancouver

Breaking the ice

Wang Meng (left) got three golds in short-track speed skating

When Shi Dingwei watched coverage of the Winter Olympics on television, he had more than a passing interest in the shapes of the snowboards. That’s because his firm, Ningbo Matrix, makes around 100,000 snowboards per year and many of them were used in Vancouver.

“The snowboards didn’t have our own logo on them,” says Shi, whose OEM firm makes the boards for others. “But we could easily recognise them by the design patterns.”

Particularly pleasing to Shi was the performance of America’s snowboarders – since, as Shi told the China Daily, Matrix makes the majority of the SIMS-branded boards that the US team used. In this respect, ‘Made in China’ snowboards won two golds, one silver and two bronzes.

But for most Chinese, the focus of attention was firmly on the national team. That was particularly true in Heilongjiang province – China’s chief skiing region. The local lottery operator asked residents to guess how many golds China would win. For a cost of 0.1 yuan they could SMS their prediction, with the winning guesses entering a lucky draw to win Rmb1 million ($146,470).

Guessing high was clearly the best strategy. China won five golds, a record haul – and especially impressive when you consider it had won a total of four golds in all previous Winter Olympics.

None of those golds went to ‘Hotdog’ Han Xiaopeng (See WiC48). One of China’s few reigning champions from the previous Turin games, he was widely expected to retain gold in the men’s freestyle skiing aerials. Instead he failed to land his second jump, and finished a disappointing 21st. A tearful Han then announced he was quitting the sport.

But that was one of the few setbacks for China’s Winter Olympic team. It went into the event deliberately setting expectations low, only to outperform. Its total medal haul of 11, saw it equal France, ranking joint-eighth in the medals table.

The reason for the success? You might expect China’s sports authorities to put it down to superior training methods and facilities. But surprisingly, China’s best Winter Olympics performance ever is being credited to “better English”. The deputy chef-de-mission of the Chinese delegation, Xiao Tian says: “It is one of the main reasons they did such a good job in Vancouver.” Why? “As they speak good English and have good communication skills, they become integrated into the world’s sports family. It makes them more confident in competitions.”

After what Xiao terms the nation’s “major breakthrough” in Vancouver, he reckons the country is on the way to becoming “a powerhouse” in winter sports. Next on the agenda: to host a Winter Olympics “as soon as possible”.

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