City youngsters enthusiastic about winter sports

Despite Shanghai's subtropical climate, winter sports such as ice hockey and figure skating are attracting an increasing number of local youngsters.

Shanghai has a subtropical climate, but weather is no longer a controlling factor in sports once reserved for wintry weather. Witness the Nigerian women's bobsled team that recently qualified for the 2018 Winter Olympics, the indoor ski slopes in Dubai and a Florida-based team in North America's National Hockey League.

So it should come as no surprise that 400 Shanghai students from 30 schools met at Pudong's Feiyang Skating Center last month to compete on the ice. The two-day event featured ice hockey, short track speed skating and figure skating.

Ma Yue / SHINE

The 2017 Shanghai Primary and Middle School Ice Sport Meet gathered 400 Shanghai students from 30 schools.

Ma Yue / SHINE

Parents watch their children compete from the stands.

Thirteen-year-old Wei Yining and her twin sister Wang Yiyuan — one took father's surname and the other, her mother's — were part of a synchronized skating team. The seventh-graders from Shanghai East Experimental School have been taking weekend figure skating lessons for four years.

"We were taken to an ice rink by a friend to watch her skate, and we fell in love with skating," Wang told Shanghai Daily. "Figure skating is beautiful, though the training can be tiring and difficult sometimes."

Both girls had practiced ballet before taking up ice skating, which helped them in their new sport. But, as in most sports, injuries are inevitable. Wei suffered swollen knees from the rigors of spinning and landing and was forced by her mother to rest for a year.

Their mother keeps a firm hand on the girls' hobby.

"I make sure that skating does not affect their academic performance," she said. "Next year, there will be fewer skating sessions because they will need more time for homework."

The twins' passion for ice skating has been costly for the family. A 90-minute lesson for two costs 800-1,000 yuan (US$151), and the girls have been taking lessons twice a week. Attending youth competitions outside Shanghai also chalks up expenses.

"To be frank, the cost is a bit too much for a working class family like ours," said the girls' mother. "I have supported them only because they showed such great passion for it."

But she admitted that there have been benefits. Performing in front of an audience has given the girls courage, self-confidence, stamina and self-discipline.
"It's just a hobby for my girls," their mother said. "To become professional, you need to start at a much younger age and put more hours and money into it."

Ma Yue / SHINE

Wei Yining and Wang Yiyuan were part of the synchronized skating team that performed at the opening ceremony of the 2017 Shanghai Primary and Middle School Ice Sport Meet.

Shanghai has four ice rinks that meet competition standards. The Feiyang Skating Center in Pudong was started by Yang Yang, a former Chinese short track speed skater and current member of the International Olympic Committee.

The center offers courses in ice hockey, figure skating and speed skating, taught by retired athletes, mostly from the northeast provinces of Liaoning, Jilin and Heilongjiang, where the climate is more conducive to winter sports.

Since Beijing was selected to host the 2022 Winter Olympic Games, China has been promoting winter sports in southern cities, including grants for public schools to set up courses for students.

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Skaters compete in a short track speed skating competition during the 2017 Shanghai Primary and Middle School Ice Sport Meet.

"I'm originally from north China," said Tang Yu'an, the Shanghai father of twin boys involved in ice hockey. "So I support the promotion of ice sports in southern cities."

His 7-year-old sons Tang Xutong and Tang Xuxin are members of SMIC Private School's ice hockey team. The boys spend about 10 hours per week practicing on the ice and attending student competitions.

"Ice hockey is popular in some foreign countries, especially in North America," said father Tang. "For children who plan to study abroad someday, being able to play ice hockey might help them adapt to a new environment more quickly."

Aside from that, the sport builds character, he said.

"Ice hockey is a fast sport that requires concentration and quick reactions," he said. "Most parents at the school support it just as they would support football or basketball, but ice hockey is a small-crowd sport. If my sons were good enough and wanted to go professional someday, I would support them."

Tang said the family spends about 100,000 yuan on ice hockey every year, including the cost of lessons and equipment.

Tang Xutong and Tang Xuxin have participated twice in the Shanghai Primary and Middle School Ice Sport Meet. Another major competition in Shanghai occurs in May, involving about 10 schools with ice hockey courses.

Ma Yue / SHINE

Tang Xutong and Tang Xuxin are members of SMIC Private School's ice hockey team.

Ma Yue / SHINE

Tang Xutong (front) in action during the 2017 Shanghai Primary and Middle School Ice Sport Meet.

That was reflected in September when the National Hockey League staged a pre-season game in Shanghai's Mercedes-Benz Arena between the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks.

In November, the second annual ISU Shanghai Trophy was awarded, capping a tournament of speed skating, figure skating and synchronized skating. It was the first time the International Skating Union had incorporated the name of a city in a trophy.

"For the promotion of any sport, youth development is always key," said Zhao Yinggang, president of the China Ice Hockey Association. "The number of youngsters taking up winter sports is still small. For ice hockey or any other ice sport to expand, we need to build facilities, recruit coaches and develop management systems."

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