Sliding into a cool new era

China’s skeleton pilots, bobsledders getting a boost

With homegrown athletes catching up to the rest of the world and a world-class track taking shape, bobsled and skeleton are making big strides in China-and the boss of the sports’ world governing body is taking notice.

As president of the International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation, retired Italian bobsledder Ivo Ferriani is no stranger to the complexity of developing the highly-technical sports, guiding the French national team to multiple world championships in the 1990s and serving as event manager for all sliding disciplines at the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics.

“We are fully involved in creating a legacy plan because we need China on board with us longer than the 2022 Games,” Ferriani told China Daily on Thursday at a forum regarding the Olympics and city development.

“We believe after the Games the Chinese have a chance to be one of the best teams in our sports,” the 59-year-old added on the sidelines of the forum at west Beijing’s Shougang Industrial Park.

The forum is part of the China International Fair for Trade in Services, which runs until Saturday.

The remarkable breakthroughs made by China’s cross-sport pilots coupled with the legacy plans developing around a new sliding center in northwest Beijing’s Yanqing district for the 2022 Games offer convincing proof the nation is serious about embracing the events, said Ferriani.

After making its Olympics debut in bobsled and skeleton at last year’s Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, China is drafting athletes from other sports and hosting domestic championships at overseas tracks in hopes of reaching the podium on home soil in 2022.

Ferriani believes the host has the potential to win medals in men’s skeleton and women’s monobobsled, one of seven new events that will debut at the Beijing Games.

Skeleton involves a pilot hurtling head-first down a frozen track on a thin sled, hitting a top speed of 140 kilometers per hour. Monobobsled requires just one pilot, compared to the traditional two-and four-person versions.

Impressive gains by China’s national sliding sports program in the 2018-19 season include a gold medal for the under-23 four-man bobsled team at the junior world championships in Germany in February and two golds on the IBSF’s European Cup and North America Cup, skeleton’s secondary circuits.

They were won by former long jumpers Geng Wenqiang and Yan Wengang in November and January, respectively.

All participants in China’s national sliding program are products of an ambitious cross-sports talent search launched in 2015 to find skeleton and bobsled athletes with transferable speed and power from summer sports.

With construction of the track for the 2022 Winter Olympics slated to be completed by the end of this year, Chinese sliders will have the advantage of training onsite as often as needed.

Ferriani, who has visited the Yanqing area multiple times as a member of the International Olympic Committee’s Coordination Commission for Beijing 2022, said the construction is on schedule to deliver a unique track.

“We try to create a new concept of tracks where we can combine the demanding and the interesting parts. The Yanqing track will be special in that regard,” said Ferriani.

According to the Yanqing operation center, the sliding center, being built on a 60,000-square-meter site, features a 1.9-km competition track with a vertical drop of 120 meters between the starting gate and the finishing area.

The highlight of the track is a 360-degree loop that has never before been seen anywhere in the world. The first test run will take place in March.

“Technically, the track will be difficult to drive, but it will be interesting for the spectators to see who will be the best pilot pulling through that challenge,” said Ferriani.

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