Chinese short track speed skaters Liu Shaolin (third from right) and Liu Shaoang (second from right) take a break during a training session in Beijing on December 4, 2023. Photo: VCGChina's short track speed skating team head coach Zhang Jing underlined team spirit as the team prepares for the upcoming ISU short track speed skating World Cup in Beijing this week.
Currently, Team China stands in third place in the ISU World Cup rankings after bagging four gold, one silver and one bronze in 11 entries in Montreal, Canada.
But three out of the four gold medals China won came from the relay event, as the mixed relay team dominated in the men's 5,000 meters relay team event.
"Team spirit among the squad got us where we are," Zhang told reporters after a training session on Monday.
"Everyone in the team attaches great importance to the relay as it demonstrates the overall strength of a country. It is fiercely competitive."
The Beijing event, which runs from Friday to Sunday at the Capital Indoor Stadium, will be the third event in the six-legged World Cup series.
"It takes coordination to compete in relays, and this is why we have been underlining team effort in recent training sessions," Zhang said.
The race will witness the return of Chinese Olympic short track champions Ren Ziwei and veteran Fan Kexin.
Chinese short track speed skating team members compete in a training session in Beijing on December 4, 2023. Photo: VCGRen, a two-time gold medalist in the 1,000 meters and 2,000 meters mixed relay at the Beijing 2022 Olympics, has not participated in any international competitions since February 2022.
"My form is not at its best," Ren told reporters after a training session on Monday. "Compared to my capabilities at the Olympics, I think I am currently in a rebuilding period as I haven't competed for quite a long time."
Quoting an old saying in sports, "Stepping down from the podium means a new start," Ren said now that he has nothing to lose, he can focus on just doing his best.
"My capabilities in the short-distance race have generally recovered but it will still take time to resume my full capability in long distance competitions."
After the Beijing Winter Olympics, short track speed skating became the most popular winter sport in China. Tickets for the Beijing event sold out just minutes after they were made available on November 13.
Foreign-born athletes Lin Xiaojun, Liu Shaolin and Liu Shaoang, who transferred to Team China in recent years, have boosted China's squad depth in the men's competitions.
Liu Shaoang, who won a 500 meters gold at a World Cup event, was among the squad that won the men's 5,000 meters relay in Montreal. However, he has ruled out complacency in the team.
"We've watched the video recording of the races we competed and figured out where we have room for improvement," said Liu Shaoang, who is also a two-time Olympic gold medalist.
Overshadowed by the men's squad depth, the women's squad's performance has been considered lackluster, as none of the female skaters have made it onto the podium this season.
However, coach Zhang said that competing internationally will benefit the athletes by allowing them to learn from other elites.
"I can see their improvement in training after competing internationally," Zhang said of the women's team.
"Some of them are able to make it into the finals. But for sure there is a gap we have to overcome, as other international powerhouses are also progressing."
Rising female star Wang Ye, born in 2005, welcomed the return of veterans like Fan, saying Fan's fighting spirit has inspired her.
"Veterans like Fan are pioneers in the sport. Her return will give us a morale boost for sure, and her fighting experience also inspires us," Wang said.
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