With a blue to white gradient tu lle dress and pink skates, Ren Zan performs an elegant and confident ice dance with teammates on the rink inside their primary school in Yanqing district of northwestern Beijing.
The fourth-grade student has been practising ice dancing since she first went to school and spends nearly an hour every day on the 1,800-square metre outdoor skating rink. Taipingzhuang Centre Primary School built the rink in 2016 as part of an effort to boost students’ interest in winter sports.
The school’s ice-dancing team has more than 30 members, Zan said.
The principal, Ding Jianpei, said the school has bought more than 200 pairs of skates and other skating gear to provide ice activities for all 164 students.
“We rescheduled the school curriculum, integrating the time for exercise breaks, physical education classes and after-school activities to make sure that each grade is granted access to the ice activities for an hour every day.”
The school has organised student clubs for speed skating, figure skating, ice hockey and curling, and the outdoor rink is open to parents and nearby residents.
Fan Huixin, 10, is part of the school’s curling club, formed in late December.
“The first time I saw curling stones was in school,” Huixin said. “We have learned unity and wisdom from the game.”
The outdoor curling sheet is scaled down from the standard size used in the Winter Olympics, said Zhang Lijia, coach of the curling team.
Zhang, a teacher at the school, has an interest in winter sports and is enthusiastic about introducing the students to them.
“I studied the rules of curling by myself and taught my students. We made progress together through learning and competitions. By taking part in winter sports, children can experience success and failure, and also glean happiness and wisdom.”
Ding said children not only enjoy playing winter sports and strengthening their bodies, but also have their personalities shaped through physical education.
The school has nurtured nearly 30 ice skaters for the district’s professional ice and snow sport teams, he said.
As China set a goal to get 300 million people involved in winter sports and the buzz around the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games grew, more children and school students have been given access to such activities.
Wang Chunlu , a former short-track speed skating world champion and multiple Olympic medallist, and dean of the China Ice Sport School at Beijing Sport University, said China, which began promoting ice and snow sports in early 2015, has already exceeded its goal, with 346 million people taking part in winter sports.
“The school now focuses on cultivating professional coaches for athletes, as well as physical education teachers who know and love winter sports. Teachers play an essential role in getting children involved in winter sports. Like sowing seeds, they provide knowledge, skills, and promote the winter sports culture to teens at school.”
The faculty of the China Ice Sport School is made up of retired professional athletes, even national and world champions, whose voices are more powerful and persuasive when promoting winter sports to the young.
Last year the school took part in more than 200 online and in-person promotional activities, such as launching an ice hockey video class which has garnered 40 million views.
Winter sports celebrities are also playing a role in attracting more teenagers to winter sports. Last month the Chinese figure skating duo Pang Qing and Tong Jian established a foundation to support the winter sports industry in China. The foundation, part of the China Sports Foundation, will fund projects to cultivate figure skating skills among teenagers and offer them opportunities in international competitions, Tong said.
A skating and arts centre that the pair founded after they retired has contributed to publicising and promoting winter sports among the country’s youth.
They have held 66 free lectures on ice and snow sports around China while setting up training courses for figure skating and speed skating at the centre. The ice and snow school Pang and Tong opened in Shijingshan district of Beijing in 2019 also added subjects including ice hockey.
“We will keep promoting the free lectures to meet with teenagers and help them overcome challenges while enjoying figure skating,” Tong said.
Shen Xue, president o f the Chinese Figure Skating Association, said that after China adopted policies to reduce students’ burden of tutoring and homework, the association, with the China Dancers’ Association, choreographed the first radio figure skating gymnastics, aiming to introduce figure skating to youngsters and encourage students to take part in the sport.
Nearly 50,000 students from 47 schools and 15 kindergartens have taken part in the sport, Shen said.
Beijing has promoted winter sports education and demonstration classes in more than 600 schools covering 16 districts, which involves 500,000 primary and middle school students, the Beijing government said last month.
Since 2016 Beijing has held six winter sports competitions for the young, with the number of participants increasing from 500 to 1,700. The competitions also expanded from fun activities such as climbing snow slopes and playing puzzles on ice, to include more serious events, such as speed skating and ice hockey.
Training sessions beyond schools have also attracted parents to further improve the winter sports skills of their children.
Xing Guorui, 4, was geared up for her last skiing lesson at Shijinglong, the biggest ski resort in Yanqing, early last month. Her coach said the girl is gifted and had grasped basic skiing skills over the course of five classes.
Xing Tieniu, the father, was proud to see his daughter make progress after each session. The outlay of 3,000 yuan ($475) for his daughter’s lessons is well worth it, he said.
“Since Beijing was named as the host of the 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, it has become easier for people in my hometown take part in winter sports. The infrastructure and roads have greatly improved.”
Wang, the dean of the Ice Sport School, said the 2022 Winter Olympics is the seed for winter sports being planted in China.
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