Geng on fast track to success

Updated 2018-02-23 14:53:03 China Daily

Geng Wenqiang

After an encouraging test run in Pyeongchang, China's rookie skeleton pilot Geng Wenqiang has set his sights on zooming to glory at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.[Special coverage]

A former long jumper, the 25-year-old Geng only picked up the electrifying sliding sport in 2015 and quickly made history by becoming the first Chinese to qualify for the Olympics in the discipline.

He finished a creditable 13th overall out of the 30 elite pilots in South Korea, but it's a measure of Geng's ambition that he wasn't totally happy with his Games debut.

"I don't feel it was a very good result and I still have a lot of room to improve my starting dash, body control and sled-handling skills," said Geng.

"But I am happy I watched and learned from up close how the best pilots in the world train and race at the Olympics. It's an invaluable experience for a rookie like me."

Jeff Pain, Geng's Canadian coach and a silver-medalist pilot at the 2006 Turin Games, was a little more effusive in his appraisal.

"To finish 13th out of the 30 best guys in the world with only three years' experience is incredible," said Pain.

"This is a perfect stepping stone for him for the next Olympics. Hopefully he can build some strength, get faster in starts, learn more about sledding every year and still be there in four years' time."

The oohs and aahs of the spectators at Alpensia Sliding Center during the Games gave a palpable sense of how exhilarating skeleton is.

Still, only the pilots know just how heart-stopping it is to hurtle down a frozen track headfirst and face down on a thin sled at a top speed of 140 kph.

"It's scary and fun at the same time, like flying on a bullet," said Geng, China's first and only Olympian in the discipline, after his race.

"I still remember how intimidated and nervous I was three years ago to try my first run on the track, worrying that I might lose control on a whirring piece of metal.

"But I've become addicted to the speed now. It's really an exciting sport that appeals to young people like me."

Geng was drafted into the skeleton team through a cross-sport talent selection in 2015, spending the whole of his first season overcoming the fear and nerves that numbed his legs every time he surveyed his challenge from the top of the track.

"Crashes in training were an everyday occurrence in the first year, but the sheer sense of speed and the whistle of the wind became addictive and pushed me to continue," said Geng.

After a series of strong runs this season, including a seventh-place finish out of 31 pilots in his World Cup debut in Lake Placid, New York in November, Geng accumulated enough ranking points to qualify for Pyeongchang.

Watching on TV, Geng's father, Geng Changshun, a corn farmer in Inner Mongolia, admitted he was proud of his son's bold career move.

"Nobody had a clue about the sport at home back then," said Geng senior. "Now I am pleased that I supported him to make the shift from jumping to sledding.

"Everybody in our neighborhood now knows he is an Olympian."

And as the countdown begins in earnest to the 2022 Beijing Olympics, Geng is already envisioning an even prouder moment.

"I was so envious to see the South Korean win a gold medal at home. I hope I can do the same in four years but I have plenty of work to do," he said.

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