Chinese aerials freeskiers make milestone at Beijing 2022, eyeing new heights in the future

Qi Guangpu of China celebrates after winning the men's aerials final of Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics at Genting Snow Park in Zhangjiakou, north China's Hebei Province, Feb. 16, 2022. (Xinhua/Yang Shiyao)

Writing history on home snow, China's seven-member freestyle ski aerials team boasting of world champions and world-leading athletes lives up to its name.

CHONGLI, Zhangjiakou, Feb. 17 (Xinhua) -- Collecting two golds and one silver from three events of the Olympic free ski aerials, host China has become the biggest winner in the sport at Beijing 2022.

By writing down history on home snow, the seven-member freestyle ski aerials team, which is consisted of world champions and world-leading athletes, has lived up to its name and promise.


The competitions were full of uncertainty and the road for the Chinese team to the pinnacle was definitely not smooth.

Since Han Xiaopeng made the breakthrough by grabbing the men's aerials Olympic gold for China at Turin 2006, the Chinese team has been waiting for its second Olympic title for 16 years, despite being title favorites in every Winter Games.

At Beijing 2022, things did not work out from the very beginning as the Chinese team suffered a blow on February 10 when they missed the newly-added mixed team title, an odds-on event for them, settling for the silver due to just one error-prone landing by four-time Olympian Jia Zongyang in the final.

Then, Xu Mengtao, another four-time Olympian, made it in the women's aerials on February 14. At the age of 31, Xu won the first-ever Olympic gold for herself and also for the Chinese women's aerials squad with the world's top-notch trick of back-full-full-full.

The breathtaking final witnessed five of the six finalists tried to perform the world's top-notch trick, but only Xu succeeded. With a solid standing for her winning jump, Xu held high the national flag and whooped to the cheering crowd, "We win".

Being trained as a gymnast from the age of four and switched to aerials skiing in 2001, Xu has been pursuing the Olympic dream for 21 years.

Her gold medal added glamour to the collection of five silver and two bronze medals which the Chinese team has won from all the Winter Olympics during the past 16 years.

Two days later, Qi Guangpu, also a four-time Olympian at the age of 31, claimed the men's aerials gold with a near-perfect jump of back double full-full-double full which boasts of a difficulty degree of 5.000, the highest in the world so far.

Again, in the medal-deciding final, five of the six finalists threw the trick with a difficulty degree of 5.000 but only Qi made a complete finish with a score over 120.00 points - 129.00.

It thus becomes the seventh gold for China in the ongoing Beijing 2022, a record so far in its Olympic Winter Games history, and the fourth gold for China from snow sports.

In his dream to be an Olympic champion, Qi has shifted his gear from trampoline to free ski aerials around the age of 10. He has been keeping a low profile until Wednesday with his shocking performance at the Genting Snow Park.

"Qi boasts of textbook technique. His movements are complete and he has mastered them perfectly," Li Nina, the Chinese women's aerials silver medalist at Turin 2006 and Vancouver 2010, once said.

Gold medalist Xu Mengtao of China attends the award ceremony of freestyle skiing women's aerials at Zhangjiakou Medals Plaza of the Winter Olympics in Zhangjiakou, north China's Hebei Province, Feb. 15, 2022. (Xinhua/Deng Hua)


China, one of the powerhouses in the aerials, has marked the milestone in its Olympic history by engraving the keyword "veteran", which has the connotations of efforts, passions and injuries.

Freestyle skiing aerials became an official event of the Winter Olympic Games in 1994, when China set up its first national team with several teenagers starting their training from scratch.

Four years later at the Nagano Winter Olympics 1998, Xu Nannan took the silver in the women's aerials for a new chapter of the Chinese snow sports, which kept to be updating by then young talents such as Xu and Qi, who were inspired to engage in the sport.

Along with promoting the sport that requires more skills than strength, the Chinese team has won a total of three gold, seven silver and four bronze medals in its Winter Olympic history.

They also made fast progress and remarkable World Cup performances. Li Nina had won three consecutive titles at the World Championships.

Among active women athletes, Xu has podium finishes in 49 of 71 career World Cup events, including 27 victories, making her one of the most decorated athletes in aerials, and Kong Fanyu is another Chinese female freeskier being ranked second in the World Cup.

The Chinese men's team of Sun Jiaxu, Jia Zongyang, Qi Guangpu and Wang Xindi also harvested plenty of medals in World Cups to keep leading the sport.

Yet, free skiing aerials is a sport full of risks. The 30-year-old Jia has had 22 nails in his leg for injuries suffered from training, while many of his teammates have had major surgeries.

"The key factors to the team's great success today are not only hard training and dedication but also advanced methods, systematic preparations and great health care. All of these brings a substantial change to our team," Xu said.


The changes also took place in the philosophy of the Chinese athletes and the ideas of sports fans.

"I am enjoying what I'm doing now, and have become more open-minded to be calm and steady," Xu said.

Athletes are sure to cherish strong desire to stand on the top podium, but sometimes it might take generations to make the dream come true, and the aim of winning a gold medal is no more so much popular in China.

People love to see the athletes enjoy the sport and have more fun from it. When Jia made his error-prone landing and China thus missed the mixed team gold medal, millions of the people tried to console him on the internet. "You don't need to apologize" becomes the voice of most of the Chinese netizens.

To be a great team, inheritance is of the essential value. Xu didn't like to be called "veteran". "We don't feel age matters that much. Young skiers are influenced by older generations just like us, and that is one of the many reasons for us to stick to it."

With two golds and one silver at Beijing 2022, the Chinese team has reached another milestone. By turning it to be a new starting point, the Chinese athletes look ahead for new heights and hope to remain to be competitive in the world.