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Olympics give winter sports boost in China

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Olympics give winter sports boost in China

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With its opening ceremony now just a week away, China has been using the Beijing Winter Olympics to promote winter sports, many of which are new to most Chinese, for fitness and business opportunities.
The push has proved lifechanging for Li Wei.
The tall, tanned 36-year-old farmer-turned ski coach works December to March at a resort in the Yanqing district, which will host skiing, luge and other sliding events for the Beijing Games.
Skiing “boosted my income to another level,” said Li, who charges 400 to 500 yuan ($60 to $80) per lesson — almost as much as his family earns in a week growing corn during warmer months.
Many in Beijing have long enjoyed winter ice skating on canals and lakes. But now, young Chinese are expanding their aspirations from basketball, football and gymnastics to sports such as hockey and skiing.
The government and private companies have built ice rinks and ski runs.
Public schools are adding skating and other winter sports. Parents are opening their wallets to pay for hockey teams and skating lessons. Villages near ski slopes are building inns to serve well-heeled tourists.
Wu Mengkai, 11, said hockey has turned him to being more extroverted and a “very sunny person.”
“You can’t be introverted when you play ice hockey,” Wu said. “You have to be brave enough to fight.”
The Chinese capital has tightened anti-virus measures and ordered mass testing of some 2 million people in one district following outbreaks. Some families are barred from leaving their homes.
The Winter Games will take place without foreign tourists or ordinary spectators under China’s “zero tolerance” strategy that aims to keep the virus out of the country. Athletes, reporters and officials are required to stay within areas that isolate them from general public.
Foreign sports brands see growth opportunities in China but are frustrated that marketing and business development are hampered by the anti-virus controls and ban on most foreigners from entering China.
“That’s kind of put a damper on things,” said Jeffrey Potter, president of Proskatecorner Pte. Ltd., the China distributor of American hockey equipment maker True.
If not for the virus, the marketing boost from the Olympics would have been bigger, really helping the economy and making hockey more popular, Potter said.
Despite the Games being off limits to ordinary spectators because of the pandemic, enthusiasm for winter sports remain high.
“I want to be an ice hockey player in the future,” said eight-year-old Guo Yuchen, who took up the sport at four and trains seven hours a week at a rink in Beijing. “Then I can bring glory to my country.”

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