And Finally

Skate of emergency

China’s national ice hockey team just got hammered 10-0 by South Korea


Kunlun Red Star’s players

Adrian Solano of Venezuela recently had the misfortune of being dubbed the world’s worst skier, as he struggled through the Nordic World Ski Championships last month. Slipping and stumbling, Solano abandoned the men’s cross-country ski qualifier about a third of the distance through, at a time when most other competitors had already completed the course. Why was Solano so bad? Apparently he had never seen snow before.

China’s national ice hockey team is also a relative newcomer. The men’s team was thrashed 10-nil by South Korea in the Asian Winter Games last month, the latest in a streak of three consecutive losses.

Ahead of hosting the Winter Olympics in 2022, China is attempting to boost its prowess in winter sports. Ice hockey is always one of the blue-ribbon events but China is still a newcomer to the sport. The nation’s capital only put together its first professional ice hockey team last year – called Kunlun Red Star – bringing the total number of men’s professional teams to three.

The team competes in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), which features 22 Russian teams plus a few more from Eastern Europe. Red Star got off to a good start, winning their debut games (one home, one away). But this strong performance was perhaps due more to the team’s international composition.

“Kunlun’s team is a mix of Russians, Finns, Canadians, an American, several other Europeans and, of course, a handful of Chinese,” the Global Times writes, adding that “longer term, the plan is to try to blood an increasing number of local players as they mature.”

At the time being, the national team does not have a decent pool of players from which to choose. China Daily said there are only 1,101 registered ice hockey players in China (compare that to 20,000 registered in Japan). The head of the national women’s team suggested that of those 1,101 players, roughly 100 were women (China’s ladies team was beaten 6-1 by Japan last month).

Ever since the Rio Olympics last summer – when China finished third in the medal table behind the US and Britain – there has been chatter that China’s sports planners are about to ditch their gold medal obsession (see WiC336). However, there is a different sort of pressure when China plays host, as it will in 2022.

Perhaps that’s why the country’s latest sports development plan has been very supportive of ice hockey and other winter sports, promising to focus on developing interest and talent from a young age. The plan requires primary and middle schools in the icy north to incorporate winter sports into their curricula, and schools in the south are to be “encouraged” to partner with professional clubs to provide winter sports classes.

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