China made no secret forward of this 12 months’s Olympics that a part of its mission in internet hosting the occasion was to show its prowess in winter sports activities, and employed greater than 50 main overseas coaches to rework its younger athletes into world-beaters.
The Chinese language Olympic Committee’s most high-profile teaching rent was the Norwegian biathlon legend Ole Einar Bjoerndalen. His haul of 13 medals over six Olympics, together with eight golds, in a sport that mixes cross-country snowboarding and rifle capturing is the most important by a person in any Winter Video games self-discipline.
The recruitment of Bjoerndalen, 48, after he retired from competitors in 2018 highlights China’s long-term ambition to make use of the Video games as a launch pad to develop into a number one winter sports activities contender, in a position to compete towards the European and North American international locations that dominate many occasions.
That effort has had some success: China has loved its greatest Winter Video games, profitable its twelfth medal and sixth gold on Tuesday as Su Yiming turned the primary Chinese language athlete to win an Olympic snowboarding occasion.
However Beijing believes sports activities corresponding to cross-country snowboarding and biathlon, which supply a mixed 23 medal occasions, are a vital path to ascending to the highest of the desk.
Mark Dreyer, the Beijing-based writer of Sporting Superpower: An Insider’s View on China’s Quest to Be the Finest, mentioned Bjoerndalen was essentially the most revered overseas winter sports activities coach in China. “He’s essentially the most highly effective, he’s been pushing more durable than anybody to get issues performed and he’s typically seen — for a foreigner — pretty untouchable,” he mentioned.
“After two or three years, plenty of coaches get pissed off on the lack of change they’re able to usher in after which they depart or get fired,” he added. With Bjoerndalen, “they take heed to him in a means that overseas coaches are usually not all the time listened to”.
The host nation’s efforts in biathlon haven’t but borne fruit in Beijing — the staff’s highest particular person end result has been Cheng Fangming’s Thirty second-place end within the males’s dash — however “biathlon is the longer term in China”, Bjoerndalen instructed the Monetary Instances on the Zhangjiakou Biathlon Centre, three hours north-west of Beijing.
“Our purpose was positively to catch a medal right here . . . however I don’t hand over earlier than the final race is finished,” he mentioned.
The Norwegian mentioned his athletes wanted one other Olympics to mature, whereas coronavirus pandemic restrictions in China meant they had been unable to journey to world cup occasions, limiting their possibilities to evaluate their health and talent towards the world’s greatest.
“Now we have performed among the job,” Bjoerndalen mentioned. “Nevertheless it was very difficult, this corona state of affairs, as a result of we locked down for 2 years.”
For some Chinese language athletes in Beijing, nonetheless, the restrictions had been a aggressive benefit. Yan Wengang, who received China’s first medal in sliding sports activities with a bronze within the males’s skeleton on Friday, mentioned he was in a position to full greater than 500 runs on the course forward of the Video games, one thing overseas rivals couldn’t do.
However his coach, the Austrian former skeleton world champion Andreas Schmid, mentioned it might take extra time to constantly beat Germany, the main drive in bobsleigh, luge and skeleton.
“These nations have traditions in winter sports activities. Germany has 4 tracks within the nation,” he mentioned. “They begin the game at 12, 16 years outdated and so they transfer on. For our guys, it was a brand new expertise to do one thing they’re not used to. You want ice time, ice time, ice time, expertise, expertise, expertise. That is what China doesn’t have but.”
Requested how China may enhance its efficiency towards the Nordic international locations, Yan Jiarong, a spokesperson for the Beijing organising committee, mentioned one of many legacies of those Olympics can be the instructors who had been employed. “We’ve launched the programme of winter sports activities in communities and in faculties in China, so we do have extra professionals in sports activities, together with the trainers and the coaches,” she mentioned.
However Bjoerndalen’s appointment has been controversial in his native Norway. China has been accused of a mass repression marketing campaign in Xinjiang towards the primarily Muslim Uyghur minority, prompting the US and a lot of different western governments to launch a diplomatic boycott of the Video games.
The human rights group Amnesty Worldwide Norway instructed the native newspaper VG that Bjoerndalen was “being utilized by a dictatorship”.
The coach has prevented politics, saying: “I don’t have sufficient information about it. So I keep 100 per cent centered about sport on a regular basis.”
Bjoerndalen’s contract with the Chinese language Olympic Committee expires in March, however he desires to remain on to work with a few of his youthful athletes. “However the growth of the athletes is the important thing level. If I may also help them, I want to stick with the staff,” he mentioned.
There’s one situation, nonetheless: he hopes China will focus all its vitality on athlete growth, after mitigated the unfold of Covid-19 was the precedence of the Beijing Video games.
“In high sport, you possibly can’t make compromises. In the event you begin to make compromises, you possibly can’t have success,” he mentioned.
If an settlement may be discovered with Chinese language sporting officers, he added, “something is feasible on this nation”.