Feature: NE China stages revival of century-old winter sport

(Xinhua) 09:22, February 04, 2024

Participants compete during the first Jilin Songhua River Skating Marathon in Jingyu County, northeast China's Jilin Province, Jan. 30, 2024. The event attracted over 7,000 contestants from China and overseas. (Xinhua/Yan Linyun)

CHANGCHUN, China, Feb. 2 (Xinhua) -- The skating marathon, which originated in the Netherlands in the early 20th century, is a speed skating event with a distance comparable to that of a marathon.

Until recently, it had not been held since the end of last century, but now the skating marathon is back on track. A couple of days ago, the first Jilin Songhua River Skating Marathon Challenge took place in Jingyu County, Baishan City, northeast China's Jilin Province.

On the frozen Songhua River, contestants in the categories of skating, running, skiing, ice dragon boat racing and biking set off from the starting point together. The eye-catching event has given northeast China's winter sports another boost.


"This is a unique venue. It's a first for ice and snow activities in the country," said Zhao Weichang, the first flag-bearer in the history of China's Winter Olympics, who also served as the event's referee. He said that the longest distance of the Winter Olympics speed skating events is only 10,000 meters, while contestants here need to skate back and forth on a track of 10.5 kilometers.

During winter, the frozen Songhua River winds like a giant dragon. The mountains along the river are towering, and the tree branches are covered with snow. With the sound of the starting gun, over 7,000 contestants set off. "This is so wonderful! I have never experienced this kind of atmosphere before," said participant Yang Shunqing.

"I have seen a lot of marathons, but this is the first time I have seen something like this. This ice and snow event in Jilin is very creative!" said Zhang Yifan, a tourist from Hangzhou, who had initially planned only to visit the Changbai Mountain area for skiing and tourism, but said this event had taken her trip to another level.


"Before hosting the competition, we did a comprehensive risk analysis," Liu Qi, deputy director of the Jilin Provincial Administration of Sport, said that organizers hired experts to explore the ice surface three times to make sure its thickness met certain requirements.

The large temperature difference between day and night, the uneven ice surface and the cracks on the surface are all obstacles to the operation of speed skating competitions. To make the surface smooth and clean, workers from all over Jilin Province worked day and night to polish and maintain the tracks over the past 15 days. "This is the smoothest outdoor ice surface I have ever skated on," said contestant Jiang Weili.

At the supply station that day, in addition to regular supplies, there was also an iron pot stew, a signature dish in northeast China. The steaming aroma of the big pots attracted many contestants. Additionally, the self-heating ski socks produced in Liaoyuan, Jilin, which had made their appearance at the 2022 Winter Olympics, proved a hit with many contestants.


Ice and snow sports focus on the interaction with nature. In the Netherlands, an event called Elfstedentocht began in 1909, which means "Eleven City Tour" in Dutch. This is a 199-kilometer skating tour on natural ice, with 11 cities on the route, and is regarded as a unique and beautiful winter sports event.

27 years since the last skating marathon, this classic ice sports event restarted on the Songhua River in northeast China, setting a new Guinness World Record for the largest ice skating race series.

"Our goal is not just to set a Guinness World Record. Jilin is aiming to create a new platform to attract more people to participate in ice and snow sports," said Mu Dapeng, director of the Jilin Provincial Administration of Sport.

In China, where marathon running events are booming, Jilin has promoted "ice and snow" marathons this winter. In Baishan, contestants skated on the frozen Songhua River. In Changchun, the Vasaloppet International Skiing Festival has been held 22 times. Skating and skiing marathons have contributed to the high-quality development of Jilin's ice and snow economy.

"Baishan City has a new business card for its ice and snow resources from now on," said Xie Zhongyan, Secretary of the Baishan Municipal Party Committee, adding that this event has attracted many contestants from all over China, and that Baishan welcomes people to experience the excitement of the event and the charm of the city's ice and snow resources in the Changbai Mountain area.

(Web editor: Zhang Kaiwei, Liang Jun)


Related Stories