Everyone should take pictures, points out Li Yan, head coach of the Chinese speed skating team. Ning Zhongyan won the 1500m at the World Cup in Stavanger and that should be celebrated. The 22-year-old skater is surrounded by about five supervisors. His new medal shines on his chest.
Ning has often shown that he is a good driver for the 1500 metres. In 2020, he finished fourth in the world championship distances, and at the end of 2019 he also won the World Cup competition in Nur-Sultan, the capital of Kazakhstan. On Sunday, he was the best in Stavanger with a time of 1.45.16, ahead of Joey Mantia (1.45.55) of the United States and Kim Min-seok of South Korea (1.45.63).
This victory is more important than it was two years ago. “It’s very important to win this medal and gain confidence in the games,” he says. His coach, Wang Zhioli, translates to English. This year he is feeling pressure to perform more than before because of the games in his country. “But skiers from other countries are also feeling that pressure.”
Ning does not have to bear the pressure of Chinese expectations on the long track alone. He shares it with Gao Tingyu, who won his first World Cup race of the season over the 500m last week with the fastest opening ever (9.32).
Peter Colder, China coach from 2016 to 2018, knows them both. Ning chose himself from a pool of 50 talents. Gao, now 23, was under his wing when the race coach was fired after two doping issues in his selection.
Led by Gao’s coach Liu Guangbin, Caulder led the sprinter to Olympic bronze in the 500 meters in 2018. Gao was the first Chinese man to win an Olympic medal in the long track.
The two Chinese hemp comes from the same region: Heilongjiang. The provincial capital is Harbin, which has an indoor ice rink. That’s in a sense, as a center for long-track speed skating, Thialf in China. Ning looked at his compatriot in 2018 with admiration. You have seen Tingyu win the bronze medal. This motivates me. In Beijing, both should be able to reach a higher level, says Ning. “We think we can do that.”
Both skaters stand out, says Kaulder, now the Dutch junior coach. Zhongyan is an atypical boy. He is very driven and knows what he wants. Tingyu is very personal, but also very extroverted. It almost doesn’t look Chinese at that. In this sense, they are similar to each other.
Coach Lee lacks that openness. It is clear that she finds the interference of the press in Norway disturbing. Questions about Gao’s absence from the World Cup in Stavanger – he didn’t race – loomed large. “That was planned. He’s riding in Salt Lake City again.” As she walked away, she denied what Wang had previously said: Zhao was discharged with a minor injury.
This is the case in China. Caulder: “When I was working there, they didn’t want me to interview them either.”
In recent years, foreign coaches have been coming and going to China. Especially the Dutch, with Bob de Jong, Ari Kopps and Rutger Tejsen, who were eventually fired in 2019 and were very relieved about it. Working in the closed country disappointed her.
When asked, Ning said he hasn’t had much trouble with coach changes in recent years. Caulder, with whom he remains in frequent contact, thinks it has something to do with it. Wang was fired two years ago. Zhongyan told me he had a hard time with that, back then. She was out of the picture for about four weeks, but there were forces that brought her back.
Zhao has been working with his own coach for years and doesn’t like the strict rules of the Chinese Ski Association. A former coach who wishes to remain anonymous says that last year, when the Chinese did not compete in international competitions, he was therefore not part of the national selection. Caulder wouldn’t be surprised. He doesn’t care what other people think. Management finds this difficult.
Since the spring of 2019, foreign inputs have been limited. But this does not mean that the old Chinese method, strict and strict, is now being used again. Kaulder: “Gau has his own way anyway. We don’t dare do that in Holland as much as he trains.
Ning also trains in a modern way, because Wang is as western as she can be in her training methods. She worked for years in Canada where she coached Olympic champions Clara Hughes and Kristen Nesbitt, among others.
The two skaters embraced the Dutch view of the sport, Kaulder believes: “This is not technical or physical, but above all experience. They understand that it’s not just hard work, but you also have to have fun.”
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