New faces lace up for China

High-profile additions to the short-track speed skating team raise the stakes as national program begins preparations for World Cup season.


The Chinese national short-track speed skating team is gearing up for a busy 2023-24 season, with 17 international events set to provide plenty of tough tests as part of the squad's buildup to the 2026 Winter Olympics in Italy. [WEI XIAOHAO/CHINA DAILY]

July 14, 2023

BEIJING – With strong reinforcements on board, China’s new-look short-track speed skating team is lacing up for a challenging new season when it hopes to jump-start its preparations for the 2026 Olympics.

Three months out from the opening leg of the International Skating Union’s 2023-24 World Cup series, China’s short-track speed skating national program has called up a 27-strong training camp roster. It is hoped the squad’s blend of youth and experience can set the tone for the 2026 Milano Cortina Winter Olympics.

The return of China’s Olympic champion skaters, including Ren Ziwen and Fan Kexin, and the addition of Hungarian-born twin brothers Sandor Liu Shaolin and Liu Shaoang as well as Lin Xiaojun, formerly a South Korean national skater, attracted intense media attention during an open day at the camp on Tuesday.

Now eligible to represent China internationally as legally naturalized athletes, the Liu brothers and Lin are expected to significantly enhance the medal credentials of the already competitive Team China for the 2026 Winter Olympics in Italy.

National team head coach Zhang Jing instructs a skater during Tuesday’s training session in Beijing. [WEI XIAOHAO/CHINA DAILY]

“They are all quite mature athletes who know what they are doing with their own approach,” national team head coach Zhang Jing said of the veterans at the camp.

“Their self-discipline and attention to detail in training are very impressive.

“I hope they can set the example for our young skaters, push them to work harder and inspire the next generation to follow their lead to be more disciplined and more focused.”

After winning four medals, including two golds, on home ice at Beijing 2022, the Chinese national program granted a rest year to reigning men’s 1,000m Olympic champion Ren and three-time women’s Olympian Fan last season. In their absence, the ever-ambitious squad focused on honing young talents under the guidance of Zhang, who took over Team China last summer following a 10-year stint with the Hungarian national team.

With only one accomplished skater in Lin at her disposal, Zhang guided a relatively inexperienced squad at all six stops of the 2022-23 World Cup season, bringing home a modest haul of 10 medals but plenty of valuable lessons for the youngsters.

Lin, who made his international debut for China last season after missing Beijing 2022, took pride from contributing to the talent development in his adopted country.

“As a senior athlete, I always try to share as much experience as possible with young teammates and help them grow,” Lin, formerly known as Lim Hyo-jun, said through an interpreter.

“Now with more veterans with international experience coming back, I really look forward to working together with everyone to help improve Team China’s performances in the new season,” added Lin, who won 1,500m gold at the 2018 Winter Olympics representing host South Korea.

After being banned by the sport’s governing body in South Korea in 2019 due to a legal dispute with a teammate that had jeopardized his career, Lin decided to switch nationality in 2021 to continue skating professionally, but had to wait until the beginning of the 2022-23 season to be eligible to race in the Chinese uniform.

Sandor Liu Shaolin leads his new teammates on the ice during a training session in Beijing on Tuesday. [WEI XIAOHAO/CHINA DAILY]

His back-to-back 500m wins at last season’s final two World Cup legs in February proved he remains an elite contender on the ice despite missing almost four years of international racing.

After undergoing successful surgery on his right shoulder in April, Lin feels ready for a stronger comeback this season.

“Physically I am getting better every day. An effective rehab program helped me recover sooner than expected. It’s been three months since the surgery, and now I can train on ice without the old injury bothering me,” said the 26-year-old, who takes a one-hour Chinese lesson every day.

Also busy shaking off the rust at the camp are the Liu brothers, who missed all international events last season due to the naturalization process and only raced in their first official competition since Beijing 2022 at the Chinese national championships in March.

The brothers, born to a Chinese father and Hungarian mother in Budapest, are excited to join the national program of the country they call their second home.

“We don’t have any issues of fitting in because we’ve been living together with our Chinese grandparents since we were little, plus our father always cooks us Chinese food. The culture and life in China for us are just natural to get used to,” said the elder brother Shaolin.

“We’ve been back so often that we don’t feel any different,” said Shaoang, who, like his brother, speaks fluent Mandarin.

Reigning men’s 1,000m Olympic champion Ren Ziwei (front) negotiates a corner during training on Tuesday. [WEI XIAOHAO/CHINA DAILY]

According to team manager Liu Chenyu, the training camp will conclude at the end of next month after a series of physical and skating tests and the new national team roster for the 2023-24 season will be announced in early September.

With three new youth World Cup events and the Winter Youth Olympic Games added to the 2023-24 calendar, Team China plans to compete at 17 international events, including all six senior World Cup legs and the world championships, in the new season, according to head coach Zhang.

“We are embracing the busier schedule as a way to expose the youngsters to more international drills, and for the veterans to pick up their pace,” said Zhang, who guided the Hungarian men’s team, anchored by the Liu brothers, to the country’s first Winter Olympic gold by winning the 5,000m relay at the 2018 Games.

“We are facing a very challenging 2023-24 campaign, which will set the tone for us going forward to the 2026 Winter Olympics.”

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