Chinese speed-skating team enjoying River City anonymity
Nobody in the stands. No fleet of reporters. No spectators. No cameras.
The Chinese short-track speed-skating team — ladened with world-class athletes — circled around the Olympic-sized ice at McArthur Island Sports Centre, head coach Li Yan, diminutive, demanding, prodding them along the way.
Nobody was watching — and that’s just fine by them.
“Sometimes, we need that kind of space, quiet, with nobody around you and you just do your own job,” said Yan, her skates exchanged for sneakers, a soft-spoken voice replacing the aggressive tone reserved for the ice.
“We kind of need that.”
During his tenure as mayor, Kamloops North-Thompson Liberal MLA Terry Lake and a 22-member delegation visited the Far East in 2008.
The delegation brokered a deal that saw the Chinese team train in Kamloops that summer at McArthur, home to two speed-skating clubs — the Kamloops Long Blades and the River City Racers.
This visit to Kamloops marks the fourth time the Chinese team has trained in the Tournament Capital.
In China, the short-track team is akin to the Canadian men’s hockey team.
They’re well-known and often recognized in public.
Kamloops provides refuge from attention and a place to focus on what lies ahead, which, this time around, are International Skating Union World Cup events in Calgary and Montreal in October.
“All the skaters know the training is so hard and everybody here [is trying to] prove themselves,” said team leader Liu Hao, deputy director of the national short-track team.
“As [far as] I know, short track is not very popular here, but I think it’s OK.
“It’s a very quiet place where we can concentrate on training.”
The team last came to Kamloops before the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, where China swept the women’s short-track events.
Wang Meng won gold in the 500- and 1,000-metre races, and gold in the 3,000-metre relay, along with Sun Linlin, Zhang Hui and Zhou Yang, who won gold in the 1,500-metre.
“We have good memories here and we have very good equipment at the ice rink and the people here are very wonderful and welcoming,” said Hao, who is employed by the Chinese Skating Association.
“We are thankful to the Kamloops government and also the ice rink and [Thompson Rivers University].”
Yan said it’s tough to balance training and leisure when the team is in town.
The competition is hot — so is the weather.
“Training always challenges you physically and mentally, but we want to also have fun, so it’s kind of complicated,” said Yan, a silver medallist in short-track for China at the 1992 Olympics in Albertville, France.
In early September, the team will return home after five weeks in the Interior.
No return plans have been made, but don’t be surprised if they come back.
“We get really good experience here,” Yan said.
“It’s fantastic facilities, the ice rink and the training track at the university.”