Naturalized skaters steal spotlight

July 22, 2023

Three naturalized short track speed skaters stole the spotlight at an opening training session of the Chinese national short track team on Tuesday, as a 27-athlete national team training camp is underway.

At a training facility for the national team next to the Capital Indoor Stadium in Beijing, Lin Xiaojun, Liu Shaolin and Liu Shaoang were garnering media attention by overshadowing China’s homegrown athletes and Olympic champions Ren Ziwei and Fan Kexin. 

Liu Chenyu, the team leader of the national short track team, told reporters that the training camp has been undergoing “dynamic adjustments” since its establishment in May. It consists of 15 male and 12 female athletes. 

Based on the performances they delivered at the national championships in late March, eight young athletes who were born after 2004 were summoned to the training camp to prepare for the junior short track international competitions this year. 

The plan is to conduct selections at the end of August and form a new national team in early September, taking into account physical fitness tests and on-ice assessments, Liu said, before stating that the ultimate goal of the team remains the 2026 Winter Olympic Games. 

“At this stage we are not setting any high targets for the athletes but focusing on gradual progress,” the team leader told reporters. “Through years of training and international competition experience, I believe they will achieve great results at the 2026 Winter Olympic Games.”

The national team’s participation in the new season will involve a relatively heavy schedule with 14 international events, including six World Cup events, the World Championships and Four Continents Championships. In addition, there will be the World Junior Championships, as well as the upcoming Winter Youth Olympics early in 2024. 

Zhang Jing, the head coach of the national team, said that the new season is a “consolidation period” for the entire team, before adding that she hopes the young athletes can mature through competitions and “compete with world champions and Olympic champions” to reach a more solid stage of development.

The aforementioned three naturalized athletes, who previously followed a training regime different from that of domestic athletes, have adopted a more independent training approach since joining the team, Zhang said. 

The experienced players have been very helpful to their younger teammates in underlining the importance of paying attention to training details, Zhang said, noting this mentorship is the key to improving the quality of training of the team. 

Chinese skaters Liu Shaolin (left) and Liu Shaoang are interviewed by the press in Beijing on July 11, 2023. Photo: Cui Meng/Global Times

Reporters interview Chinese skaters Liu Shaolin (left) and Liu Shaoang after a training session in Beijing on July 11, 2023.  Photo: Cui Meng/Global TimesBrothers Liu Shaolin and Liu Shaoang, both Olympic gold medalists who once represented Hungary and now have completed their naturalization process for China, expressed great satisfaction with their training as part of the national team. 

Liu Shaolin mentioned that although they have trained extensively abroad in places such as Canada, the US and Italy, the conditions in China are their best to date.

“We have experienced the advantages of teamwork and mutual assistance within the national team, from coaches to equipment and massage therapists, all of whom provide top-level support,” Liu Shaolin told reporters. 

When asked if they are confident about winning Olympic gold again, Liu Shaolin noted that the duo wouldn’t be in Beijing if they lacked confidence, while Liu Shaoang noted the ultimate goal for them is always standing on the top of the podium at the Olympic Games. 

Lin, who joined the national team after obtaining Chinese citizenship from South Korea, had to miss the initial training sessions of the national team due to a shoulder injury. He underwent his eighth shoulder surgery to focus on preparing for the Milan Winter Olympics.

Expressing that the shoulder injury currently does not hinder his skating training after undergoing rehabilitation, Lin has also been active in learning Chinese.

“I study Chinese one hour a day,” Lin told reporters in Putonghua (Standard Chinese) after a journalist asked about his language proficiency. Teammate Liu Guanyi, who speaks Korean thanks to his Korean ethnicity, helps interpret for Lin whenever the latter, a hot favorite on social media, faces language barriers.

When asked about the love from Chinese fans, Lin expressed his gratitude and stated that he will do his best to improve at short track speed skating together with his teammates. He also credited head coach Zhang for helping him overcome difficulties thanks to her thorough consideration for the athletes.