Eileen Gu
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Chinese Winter Olympians to Watch

Athletes in these five sports have a shot at gold during the Beijing Winter Olympic Games

Since short-track speed skater Yang Yang won China’s first Winter Olympic gold in 2002, the country hasn’t exactly racked up the medals. The PRC made its first Winter Olympic appearance at Lake Placid in 1980 (sending 24 athletes and winning no medals of any color), and the country has amassed 13 gold medals since then. Its best showing was in Vancouver in 2010, where the team brought home five golds.

But that could change this year, as Beijing prepares to host to 2022 edition of the Winter Olympic Games, beginning February 4. As China is the host country, its athletes automatically qualify for every event at the Games, and the team is by far the biggest China have ever fielded, with 176 athletes preparing to showcase their abilities.

The youngest members of the team are the 17-year-old men’s freestyle skier He Jinbo and female aerials skier Peng Qingyue; while 37-year-old Ye Jinguang, a member of the curling team, will be the oldest. Over 100 of China’s Olympic athletes hail from the Northeast, and nine ethnic minority groups are represented on the team.

With the backing of the home crowd behind them (a hashtag related to the team’s announcement has nearly 34 million views on Weibo), a number of athletes will expect to hear the Chinese national anthem from atop the podium when their events end, though there will be few spectators due to Covid-19 restrictions on travel and gathering. Here are the Chinese athletes with a great chance of striking gold:

Eileen Gu competes in the Women's Freeski Halfpipe competition at the Toyota U.S. Grand Prix at Mammoth Mountain.

Eileen Gu competes in the Women's Freeski Halfpipe competition at the Toyota U.S. Grand Prix at Mammoth Mountain. (VCG)

Eileen Gu 谷爱凌 (Freestyle Skiing)

Seemingly featured on every billboard around Beijing, as well as in TV and online ads, this American-born 18-year-old is already the face of the Beijing Games—and for good reason. She has a realistic chance for gold in three freestyle skiing events: halfpipe, big air, and slopestyle.

Gu, whose mother is from Beijing, chose to represent China in 2019, citing her desire to promote winter sports in the country, particularly for women. She has since become perhaps the best female freestyle skier in the world, while also pursuing a modeling career that has seen her appear on the cover of Vogue magazine.

In January 2021, she became the first Chinese competitor to win gold at the Winter X Games when she triumphed at Aspen in the US, winning two golds and a bronze. That year she also became the first and only Chinese skier to win multiple golds at the FIS Snowboard and Freeski World Championships—a feat she achieved despite having broken her hand just a few weeks prior. She also became the first woman to land a double-cork 1440 in December last year, a trick she will likely repeat at the Winter Olympic Games.

If she triumphs in all three events, Gu (who is often referred to as the “Snow Princess” in the media) would become the first Chinese athlete ever to win three golds at a Winter Olympic Games.

Chinese short-track skating champion Wu Dajing 武大靖

Short-track skating champion Wu Dajing won China’s only gold at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang (VCG)

Wu Dajing 武大靖 (Short-Track Skating)

Wu’s triumph in the 500-meter short-track speed skating event was China’s only gold medal at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games, and he comes into the 2022 Games as the only defending Olympic champion on China’s team. Wu also holds the world record in the 500-meter event, and is the second person in history to have skated the event in under 40 seconds.

The 27-year-old from Jiamusi, Heilongjiang province, was inspired to take up skating when he saw Yang Yang win gold at Salt Lake City when he was 10 years old. Since then, he has gone on to dominate the field, but will meet familiar rivals in Beijing from the South Korean and Hungarian teams.

Wu’s success has made him a big name among winter sports fans, and he boasts 8.8 million followers on Weibo. He is also the face of the Gillette shaving brand and Yili dairy products. In 2019, Xinhua News Agency named him a “National Role Model for Dedication to a Field”.

China has a history of success in short-track speed skating, with 10 of the country’s previous 13 Winter Olympic golds coming in the discipline.

China’s Sui Wenjing and Han Cong competing  at the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games

Sui Wenjing and Han Cong competing at Pyeongchang, where they won silver (VCG)

Sui Wenjing 隋文静 and Han Cong 韩聪 (Pairs Figure Skating)

Sui and Han, both Harbin natives, will be seeking to surpass their silver medal in Pyeongchang when they take the ice for the pairs figure skating event in Beijing. The pair have been partners since 2007, with Sui taking up the sport in 2002 after watching Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo take the bronze medal at the Salt Lake City Games. Altogether, China has won eight Olympic medals for figure skating, with six of those in the pairs event—though just one gold medal, from Shen and Zhao at the 2010 Vancouver Games.

Sui and Han won the world championships in 2019, and won the Winter Olympic test event last year. They skate to Hans Zimmer’s theme to Mission Impossible 2 in the short program and Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” in the free skate event, which Sui told reporters last year she hoped “can be a bridge for everyone to connect in these times.”

Sui and Han will face stiff competition from the Russian pairs, but have a great chance for gold.

Xu Mengtao competing in Shenyang, Liaoning (VCG)

Xu Mengtao competing in Shenyang, Liaoning (VCG)

Xu Mengtao 徐梦桃 (Aerial Skiing)

Xu is due to compete in her fourth Olympics in the aerial skiing event, having made her debut at the age of 19 in 2010 at Vancouver. She won a silver medal in Sochi in 2014, and holds the record for most individual World Cup wins in history, with 26 victories.

In Pyeongchang, Xu was the number-one ranked skier in the world going into the event, but missed the finals after crashing during the qualification rounds. Now, she is once again the top-ranked skier in the event, and the backing of the home crowd may carry her to an individual gold.

China’s women aerial skiers has never managed to win gold in the event, though they have five silvers and two bronzes. Xu will have a chance for a second gold medal at these Games, as a mixed team aerials event has been added to the Winter Olympic schedule for the first time.

Geng Wenqiang competing at the 2018 Winter Olympics

Geng Wenqiang became the first person to represent China in the skeleton at a Winter Olympics in 2018 (VCG)

Geng Wenqiang 耿文强 (Skeleton)

At Pyeongchang in 2018, Geng was China’s first ever Olympian for the skeleton event, in which competitors race face-first down an ice track on a thin metal board at speeds of over 130 kilometers per hour. There, he managed 13th place, but the 24-year-old’s career has been on an upward trajectory since.

In November 2021, Geng, from Inner Mongolia, made history by becoming the first Chinese to win a World Cup event when he tied for first place in Innsbruck, Austria. Geng originally trained as a long-jumper as a child, but switched to skeleton as a teenager.

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Sam Davies is the deputy managing editor at The World of Chinese. He writes mainly about society, sport, and culture, with his pieces touching on diverse topics from the future of China’s ski industry to efforts to prevent juvenile crime.

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