Foreigners coaching China's Olympic team, clockwise from top left: Bjorn Kristiansen, Jeff Pain, Heath Spence, Marcel Rocque, Mauro Nunez and Peter Kolder.
Olympians close gap thanks to coaching by foreign experts
With China's growing ambition to expand its winter sports prowess by 2022, a legion of foreign experts have pulled through cultural and acclimation challenges to help the country catch up with the world's best on snow and ice. [Special coverage]
Hours before the athletes arrived on the course for the women's 10-kilometer cross-country skiing at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics on Feb 15, Norwegian Bjorn Kristiansen and assistant Bernhard Ronning were busy waxing and testing skis as part of a pre-race routine, which has been in the genes of the Scandinavian skiing culture but is relatively new in China.
They apply grip or glide wax to increase or decrease friction on the back surface of skis based on race discipline, temperatures and snow conditions so athletes can gain a slight but critical edge. It is a science of the endurance sport－just like changing tires on Formula One race cars to race on dry or wet circuits.
"You wake up, and you go to the venue to start waxing and testing the skis before your athletes come to train or race," Kristiansen, head coach of China's national cross-country skiing team, said of his daily routine at the Alpensia Ski Center in Pyeongchang, Republic of Korea.
"You have to prepare the skis based on conditions as close to the race as possible so your athletes can compete with the right gear for that specific session. Morning or evening, warm or cold, fresh snow or groomed ... they all make a difference."
Kristiansen's explanation coupled with Ronning's craft of smoothing out a thin layer of wax on a ski using an electric iron offered a glimpse of the extensive expertise in competitive skiing, which China aims to learn in the buildup to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games.
To close the gap with strong winter sports nations in Europe and North America, China has hired 20 foreign coaches, fitness trainers and technical experts on its Pyeongchang delegation to help improve the level in various Western-dominated events, such as cross-country skiing, snow-boarding, skeleton and biathlon.
"To make up for our weakness in winter sports, especially on snow, we have no better solutions than combining experiences from overseas with our own traditions to make it an effective program for 2022," said Ni Huizhong, director of the National Winter Sports Administrative Center.