Sprinter Zhang aiming to switch to skeleton mode

Updated 2018-02-02 10:41:02 China Daily

Sprint star Zhang Peimeng has stunned Chinese sport by announcing he will attempt to qualify for the skeleton competition at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

If he makes it, Zhang will be the first Chinese athlete to compete in both a Summer and Winter Games.

"Today, I officially joined the Chinese skeleton team preparing for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics," Zhang revealed on Weibo on Wednesday.

"Beijing will become the only city that holds both Summer and Winter Olympics, and it's my great honor to be the first Chinese athlete to compete in both Summer and Winter Games. The crossover is a big challenge but also a brand new start." Zhang specialized in the 200 meters during his track career, boasting a personal best of 20.47 seconds over the distance and 10.00 sec over 100m.

He twice represented China at the Summer Olympics (2008 and 2012), and was part of the team that won 4x100m silver medal at the 2015 world championships in Beijing.

He retired last year to become an associate PE professor at Tsinghua University, but never stopped training.

"I miss the life of being an athlete and enjoying competing in sports tournament," said Zhang. "To be honest, I don't want to retire."

Given his age and condition, sprinting was no longer an ideal option for Zhang, who settled on the dangerous bobsledding discipline of skeleton based on advice from experts and top winter sports athletes.

"I love speed and racing, but I can't be an automobile racer, so winter sports attracted me," he said.

"Initially I wanted to choose bobsled, but the experts said skeleton might be a better choice considering my weight.

"Frankly, skeleton was a little scary for me because bobsled seems to have more protection for athletes. You know, even going on roller coaster is a little bit scary for me.

"But after my first experience with skeleton, I think I can handle the pressure.

"If others can do it, then I can. I will train in Canada and Switzerland."

As part of the move, Zhang's employer, Tsinghua University, has signed a partnership with the General Administration of Sport of China (GASC) to promote winter sports ahead of 2022.

"The cooperation means the GASC and Tsinghua will work together to solve the problems of developing winter sports and nurturing athletes in China," said Gou Zhongwen, director of the GASC.

"In terms of the shortage of winter sports talent, Tsinghua will use its resources to help train more coaches, judges, competition organizers and other specialists.

"Also, we will work together on training athletes and further developing retired athletes for new roles."

China has been building its bobsled and skeleton teams from scratch since 2015, and cleared its first hurdle by qualifying for the Pyeongchang Games.

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