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Big air bunch aiming sky high

ChinaDaily 2019-12-14

Snowboarders show off their moves on the newly built Big Air ramp at Beijing's Shougang Industrial Park, which will be used as a venue for the 2022 Winter Olympics. WEI XIAOHAO/CHINA DAILY

This week's Air & Style FIS Big Air World Cup meet in the stunning surrounds of Beijing's Shougang Industrial Park is providing a mouth-watering taste of what's to come at the Winter Olympics in three years' time.

It's also illustrated the sizable gap between the top Chinese riders and the world's elite, with none of the home hopes making it through to Saturday's snowboard final at the newly built 2022 venue.

That's not particularly surprising, given China remains a relative newcomer to Big Air, ( which also includes freeski ) , and there are encouraging signs that the nation's young talents are beginning to gain ground on the globe's snowboard superpowers.

Fifteen-year-old Su Yiming narrowly failed to emerge from his heat, missing out on the final by one spot after finishing 11th overall in a tough qualification competition that featured the likes of Canada's Olympic silver medalist Max Parrott, who ranked third in his group, and experienced American Chris Corning, who topped the group to advance.

"This is the first time that I've competed in Beijing and I'm just thrilled to join the World Cup," said Su. "The ramp and the weather were perfect. And there were a lot of spectators cheering for me when I made my last jump, which made me even more excited."

Following his parents' passion for the sport, Su started snowboarding when he was just 4 years old in the chilly northeast province of Jilin, traditionally a cradle for winter sports stars.

"I'm from Jilin, so I enjoyed a great snowboarding environment," said Su. "I learned how to snowboard when I was 4 and started Big Air when I was 7 or 8. I joined the national team one and a half years ago."

Making it this far has not been easy. Constant travel abroad for training and competitions makes finding time for his academic life particularly tough.

However, the thought of representing China at the 2022 Winter Olympics is all the motivation Su needs to persevere.

"My goal is to participate in the 2022 Winter Olympics and, if I make it, I will try my best to win glory for our nation," said Su. "My family and the national team have been supporting me and they are what motivate me.

"Snowboarding is an indispensable part of my life-in fact, it's my lifestyle. This is a challenging sport and snowboarders must have big hearts. Despite all the injuries I've picked up over the years, it has taught me a lot."

Not all China's contingent at this week's World Cup meet began boarding at such a young age.

Zhai Yue is a former gymnast who converted to snowboarding after falling in love with the exhilaration of lifting off from a Big Air ramp.

A quick learner, Zhai already finds herself competing against the likes of Austria's reigning Olympic champion Anna Gasser, who was fifth in qualifying, and Japan's 15-year-old phenom Kokomo Murase, who topped the women's standings.

"I used to do gymnastics. When you do gymnastics, you always have help and protection from your coach, but you are all on your own when you lift off from the Big Air slope," said Zhai.

"Honestly speaking, it was quite terrifying for me the first time I stood on the Big Air ramp. Progressing from smaller and lower ramps to the higher slopes, I've gradually improved. I would just turn on my music when I was stressed and got a little terrified when I stood on one of the bigger slopes.

"You know, it's easy to get addicted to snowboarding. When you pull off a good jump, that moment gives you an enormous sense of satisfaction and achievement."

Regardless of when they first bound their feet to a board, all the Chinese talent share a common dream of competing and winning a medal at the 2022 Olympics.

That's why testing themselves against the best in the business this week is so crucial to their development.

The Air& Style global series first arrived in Beijing in 2010, with the event upgraded to a World Cup meet in 2017. It was previously staged on detachable ramps at Beijing's Bird's Nest and Workers' Stadium.

"I've participated in the World Cup for three years, and this year's venue and competition environment is better than ever," said Zhang Tong, who like Zhai found the going tough in the women's heats.

"I have been improving each time I come to this event. But there's still a gap between us and the world's top riders. After all, they took up the sport much earlier than us.

"Now I spend a lot of time training in foreign countries, especially during the summer when China has no snow. In those countries, the kids start snowboarding when they are very young. To improve the level of snowboarding in China, we also need to attract more young kids to the sport."

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