Chinese skiers are training in Europe on the Spring Festival on Feb. 4.(Photo: Xinhua)
Thousands of miles away from China, where families and friends are gathering to celebrate the Lunar New Year, many Chinese athletes are sweating on snow-covered slopes, hills and ice tracks across Europe.
On this continent that has produced many of the world's best skiers and skaters, Chinese athletes are chasing their dream of being part of the Winter Olympics.
STARTING FROM SCRATCH
On the morning of Feb. 4, New Year's Eve on the Chinese lunar calendar, nine Chinese ski jumpers and their Norwegian and Chinese coaches began their usual training at the Kremmerlibakkene hill outside Norway's central city of Lillehammer.
It was a sunny day with little wind, perfect for ski jumping from the hill, although the temperature was quite low, at a freezing -17 degrees Celsius.
This team of cheerful young ski jumpers, aged between 16 and 19, is part of China's program that aims to transfer athletes to winter sports from other disciplines in order to achieve the goal of full participation at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.
The four boys and five girls have given up their former careers in other sports, such as track and field, boxing and trampoline, and started ski jumping with the aim of making it to Beijing 2022.
When the Chinese youngsters first came to Norway, one of the most successful winter sports nations, in August, most of them had never worn skis before and fell quite often on their first attempts.
Less than half a year later, they could take off the jumping table and land on the slope--although still on a small hill so far.
"We used a lot of time practising indoors. So when we started on snow, the progress has been pretty fast. I think they have good progress," Erik Renmaelmo, one of the Norwegian coaches, told Xinhua.
He said the Chinese athletes have a lot of potential and the biggest task is to fulfill it.
"Right now it's difficult to see exactly how far they can go, but of course we hope they can go as far as possible," Renmaelmo said. "The Olympics is the goal."
It has turned out to be a tough way for them. For the 22 Chinese hopefuls who came to Norway in the summer, only nine have remained in the team.
"My biggest wish of course is to take part in the 2022 Winter Olympics and it is our goal. But for now it's to do my best in daily training," said Zhai Yujia, an 18-year-old girl who had started as a trampoline gymnast from a very young age.
With snow on the ground and cold rain in the sky, the climate of Mount Yahorina, one of the venues for the 14th winter Olympics in 1984, in Bosnia and Herzegovina(BiH) is awe-inspiring.
In cold rain, Jiang Yuliang, Wang Kexin and his teammates were panting, sweat intertwined with the rain. The pair had just completed a 4km and a 2km free skiing.
Jiang and Wang are from China's Tianjin Cross-Country Ski Team (TCCST). Fifty days ago, TCCST came to BiH Yahorina mountain training. Mount Yahorina is now a well-known ski resort in Europe.
The competition, on the Chinese New Year eve, took place between TCCST and five local ski clubs in Sarajevo. Jiang and Wang respectively won the third place in the men's and women's groups. Although they didn't win the championship, they still smiled.
"These kids from China train very hard," said Tanya Kosarak, a coach TCCST hired in BiH, who has been to the Pyeongchang Games. "Some of the players are very talented."
Kosarak said she was very satisfied with the performance of the Chinese players.
Du Jiliang, the Chinese coach of TCCST, was pleased with his team's performance as well. He told Xinhua that the players have taken part in these sorts of competitions from time to time during their training period in BiH.
TCCST is made up of 14 members, with the oldest aged 17 and the youngest 12, Du said. Mainly selected from Heilongjiang, Jilin and other Northern provinces of China, most of the players' time on the snow is only three or four months.
The goal of TCCST is to prepare for the 15th National Winter Games in 2024 in China. But the Olympics are also an aim for the team, with the expectation that at least one of the 14 children will be in the Olympics.
Usually, TCCST trains four to five times a week in BiH, skiing 25-30 km each time, regardless of wind and snow condition.
NEW YEAR'S GREETINGS
The Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland, took on a different look with Chinese Spring Festival couplets on its front gate and red lanterns on its atrium.
Inside the museum, the Chinese Red Light-on 2022 Chinese New Year celebration event, the first international event of the series of cultural activities called "Cheer for the Olympics" was held on The Chinese New Year Eve.
International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach attended the event and extended New Year's greetings to the Chinese people. "First of all, a happy new year to all the Chinese people. I wish them a prosperous and happy year of the pig," he said.
Monday also marked the start of the three-year countdown to the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games. Bach, together with Vice President of the Chinese Olympic Committee and Vice President of Beijing 2022 Yu Zaiqing, jointly lit the red lanterns for Beijing 2022 to illuminate the Olympic rings.
Bach said a lot about the Chinese athletes who are working hard in preparation for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games and he wished them great achievements on their home fields.
Also in Norway, inside the restaurant of Kanten Kro that overlooks the landmark Lysgardsbakken ski jumping hill in Lillehammer, a Chinese New Year celebration in honor of the Chinese athletes based in the region was held by locals.
The young ski jumpers who had been training at the Kremmerlibakkene hill in the morning were now at the celebration, together with dozens of Chinese cross-country skiers, some Norwegian sports students, local government officials and business representatives, as well as Chinese Ambassador to Norway Wang Min.
In her speech at the celebration, Deputy Mayor of Lillehammer Ingunn Trosholmen expressed her welcome of the Chinese athletes training around the city, which held the 1994 Winter Olympics and also the 2016 Winter Youth Olympics.
"It will be very exciting to follow you in the future and to see if you succeed in beating some of the Norwegian athletes in the competitions to come in years ahead of us," she said.