SOCHI, Feb. 23-- Chinese Olympic debutants put on a memorable show at the Sochi Olympic Winter Games, taking most of the credit for keeping the country in the upper-middle of the medals table.
When the Sochi Games drew to close on Sunday, China placed 12th with three gold, four silver and two bronze. A total of 26 countries made it to the medals table as host Russia stood on top with 13 gold, 11 silver and 9 bronze. Although China's standing dropped from seventh in Vancouver to 12th this time, deputy chef de mission Xiao Tiao was happy to see young talent grow.
The very first speed skating gold for China in all the 10 Winter Olympics they took part in, came from Zhang Hong, a 25-year-old Harbin native who basically remained unknown to most Chinese until her 1,000m triumph on Feb. 13.
"Speed skating is as important in the winter games as athletics in the summer games, so Zhang Hong's gold is a huge breakthrough in China's ice and snow sport history," said Xiao after her victory.
The short track speed skating team did not disappoint either. As team captain and four-time Olympic champion Wang Meng out with an ankle fracture, her younger teammates did not let their supporters wonder too long before Li Jianrou seized the women's 500m title on Feb. 13. Five-time world champion Fan Kexin added a 1,000m silver five days later.
"Luck was on our side in Vancouver," said Xiao on Saturday. Wang Meng won the 500m, 1,000m and led the team to take 3,000m victory four years ago while Zhou Yang captured the 1,500m gold.
"I am pleased with the team in Sochi. Wang's absence affected our medal prospect but the rest of the team did a good job. Silver and bronze medals from the men's side matters a lot," he added.
Chinese men failed to bag a single silverware in Vancouver and had only one bronze in Turino 2006.
In Sochi, however, they just narrowly missed the top of the podium, several times.
The 17-year-old Han Tianyu emerged as a surprise medal winner in 1,500m, taking a silver before Wu Dajing, 19, finished runner-up in 500m. The duo teamed up with teenagers Shi Jingnan and Chen Dequan to take a bronze in 5,000m relay.
On the mountains, Xu Mengtao took China's third consecutive silver in women's freestyle skiing aerials and Jia Zongyang pulled off a bronze in men's event.
Short track speed skater Zhou Yang, the sole medalist who had Olympic experience prior to Sochi, successfully defended her 1,500m title. But veterans were generally unlucky.
Vancouver runners-up Pang Qing/Tong Jian put an end to their career with a fourth-place finish in figure skating while two-time Olympic silver medalist Li Nina came back from retirement only to have a heartbreaking fourth-place due to a failed landing in the women's freestyle skiing aerials.
"They deserve respect no matter what results they got. They gave everything to realize their Olympic dreams," said Xiao.