Olympic Short-Track Speed Skating: Chinese skaters head for Turin in low profile
Though clinching two historic Olympic gold medals in 2002, China's short track speed skating team tried to keep a low profile by saying they expected only one gold medal in the upcoming Turin Winter Olympic Games.
"Most skaters in our team are young guns, but we are quite confident that we can win a gold at the Games," said team's head coach Xin Qingshan before leaving for Turin last week.
China broke its gold jinx at the 2002 Games, when Yang Yang (A) won the women's 500m and 1,000m races, the very first gold medals for the Chinese in the Winter Olympics.
"We faced the challenges from South Korea, the United States and Canada. On the other hand, short track speed skating events are full of uncertainty. That's why we lowered our goal this time, " Xin explained.
South Korea's Ahn Hyun-Soo is a legitimate medal contender in each of the four men's events in Turin. The current 1,500m and 3,000m world record holder could become the first short track skater to win four medals at a single Games.
The United States and Canada each has strong competitors in the field and are certain to challenge for multiple podium opportunities.
The heart and "soul" of the American men's team is Apolo Anton Ohno, who won gold in the 1,500m and a silver in the 1,000m race in Salt Lake City.
Since then, Ohno won four of the six 2004-05 World Cup events to grab his third overall title, and he believes he is primed for competition in Turin.
"I'm more experienced in the past four years," Ohno stated. "It is going to be on foreign soil, so a lot of things are going to be different, but I'm looking forward to it."
Francois-Louis Tremblay was part of the Canadian gold-medal winning relay team at the 2002 Games. The pressure to continue winning after capturing an Olympic gold got to Tremblay and he struggled after Salt Lake City. However, by 2005 Tremblay won golds in the 500m and relay, and a silver in the 1,500m, ranking third in the overall standings at the 2005 World Championships.
Fellow Canadian Mathieu Turcotte is seeking to add to his pair of 2002 Salt Lake medals (bronze in the 1,000 meters and gold in the relay). He enters the 2006 Games coming off a successful 2004-05 World Cup season. The Canadian was also part of its gold-medal relay team at the 2005 World Championships, which netted him his fourth 5,000m relay world title.
The Chinese women's team is led by Yang Yang (A), and her teammates Wang Meng, Fu Tianyu, Zhu Mile and Cheng Xiaolei will shoulder the burden of claiming gold medals in Turin. The men's team members are Li Jiajun, Li Ye, Sui Baoku, Li Haonan and Wang Baojian.
Yang Yang (A), who made her Olympic debut at the 1998 Nagano Games, noted she just wanted to enjoy her favorite skating this time in Turin.
"In the previous Olympic Games, the only thing I cared about was to win the gold medal, which left too much pressure for me," said the 29-year-old veteran. "But now I realized that the medals are not the most important things in my life. I'm much more relaxed than before, and I think it does good to my preparation for the Olympics."
"Compared with traditional powerhouse South Korea and a rising Canadian team, we have advantages in the women's 500m race and the 3,000m relay," Xin said.
The 20-year-old Wang Meng, who has won all four women's 500m races in the World Cup series this season, will make her Olympic debut in Turin and is considered the world's most consistent female short track speed skater.
"Competing in the Olympic is a dream of every athlete, but if I has the opportunity to win the gold, why should I just be satisfied with my debut in Turin? The Olympics is the only experience that I have not had. With the results that I achieved recently, I'm fully confident of winning a gold," Wang once said after daily training in Beijing.
Against much stronger challenges from both South Korea and the United States, the Chinese men's team will face tougher competition but promises not to miss any medal opportunity.
"The results from past four World Cup events show that our team is above average, and we even have the chances to win medals in 500m and 5,000m relay," said Feng Kai, head coach of the men's team.
Li Jiajun took the silver in the men's 1,500 meters in the Salt Lake City Games and the bronze in the 5,000 meters relay event to earn his fourth Olympic medal of the career.
Li was only the second Chinese man in history to win a Winter Olympic medal in an individual event, with the first being short-track skater An Yulong, who won the 500-meter bronze in 1998.
"It will be my fourth Olympics, so I feel no pressure at all," said Li, 30. " I will try my best to do well in my last Olympics and encourage the whole team to fight with confidence."
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