Hulun Buir in North China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region was abuzz with excitement as the ice hockey competitions of the National Winter Games concluded this past August. The most unexpected spotlight was cast on the teams hailing from southern China, a region not traditionally associated with ice and snow sports.
Guangdong Province, making their debut in the tournament, astounded spectators by clinching their first national championship title in women’s ice hockey. Their impressive lineup included players who have represented international teams, like the remarkable national team captain Yu Baiwei. For Yu, this championship was more than just a title win. She sees it as an opportunity to showcase the allure of ice and snow sports, even in summer, and hopes to draw more attention and love towards the sport.
Yu’s passion for the game is rooted in her association with the Shenzhen Red Star club based in Guangdong. She credits the province for being tremendously supportive in the growth of winter sports, which is commendable given Guangdong’s warm climate. She expressed her belief that this victory could potentially inspire other southern cities to foster winter sports.
In the men’s category, the Chongqing Municipality team marked their National Winter Games debut by securing a respectable fourth place out of nine teams. While they might not have clinched a medal, Zhang Ge, the deputy director of the Chongqing Winter Sports Administration, praised the team for their resilience and potential. Zhang believes that increased participation in tournaments will bolster the team’s performance in the future.
The 2022 Winter Olympics held in Beijing played a significant role in the proliferation of winter sports across China. The Games catalyzed the spread of artificial ice technology, enabling youngsters in southern China to experience and embrace winter sports. Teams from Sichuan, Anhui, and Shanghai, regions seldom associated with winter, also qualified for the National Winter Games.
Sichuan, for instance, inaugurated its ice hockey team in 2019. Their chief goal was to contribute to the nation’s talent pool and potentially have Sichuan-born athletes shine at the Winter Olympics. Duan Yuchuan, who oversees Sichuan’s winter sports, mentioned that their athletes possess distinctive strengths that could be pivotal in winter sports.
Sichuan’s aspirations are tied to their women’s goalie, Wei Xueqin. Despite narrowly missing a spot in the national team for the Beijing Olympics, she remains fervent in her pursuit of excellence.
Yu Baiwei, witnessing the rise of young talent, expressed optimism about the future of women’s ice hockey in China. She emphasized the importance of not only focusing on wins but also the quality of the game, hoping that exemplary performances can inspire the next generation.
Anticipation is building for the upcoming National Winter Games scheduled for February 2024 in Inner Mongolia. This competition will serve as a litmus test for China’s emerging ice hockey talent, providing a preview of what to expect at the 2026 Winter Olympics.
Further propelling ice hockey’s popularity, Shenzhen is gearing up to host the Division I Group A women’s ice hockey world championship tournament. China will be competing against formidable opponents, and Yu Baiwei stresses the importance of delivering quality performances to inspire and captivate young aspirants.