East Meets West: The Beijing Winter Olympics is Almost Here
Journalist Lu Yan interviews Sven Hannawald, a German ski jumper and Xu Nannan, a Chinese freestyle aerial skier as part of the East meets West: China Dialogue series.
Sven Hannawald (Chinese name Han Fei), is a former German ski jumper and a champion of the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. In 2002, he became the first athlete in the history of ski jumping to win all four events in the Four Hills Tournament and was the “German Athlete of the Year”.
Xu Nannan is a former Chinese freestyle aerial skier. In the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, she won a silver medal, the first medal received by a Chinese athlete in a Winter Olympics snow event.
In Han Fei’s opinion, the Chinese team has become one of the strongest participating teams in the Summer Olympics. If the Chinese team are able to continue their current winter sport performance, China’s first gold and silver medals in other sports may be in sight.
Xu Nannan starts the conversation by recalling her own personal experience of communicating with athletes from around the world when she was still competing. She believes that holding a successful Winter Olympics plays a huge role in promoting mutual understanding between the people of different countries and is beneficial for communication between Chinese and Western cultures.
Excerpts from the full conversation are as follows:
Sven Hannawald: My name is Sven Hannawald, I used to be a ski jumper. I am looking forward to the upcoming Beijing Winter Olympics. China is hosting the Winter Olympics for the first time. I have only competed in Japan and the United States before. I have been to South Korea as a sports commentator, and this time I will go to China.
Sven Hannawald. Photo courtesy of Gunnar Menzel
Xu Nannan: I am Xu Nannan. I used to be a freestyle skier. Now I am teaching and doing research at the Shenyang Institute of Physical Education in skiing and related scientific research. I am also preparing for a job as a referee job of aerials in the upcoming Winter Olympics.
Chinese Athlete Xu Nannan (left). Photo courtesy of Wu Zhonglin
Lu Yan: Ice and snow sports are very popular in Europe and the United States. As a Winter Olympic champion, Sven Hannawald, how were you introduced to skiing? The beginning of ice and snow sports in China is somewhat later than in western countries. How do Chinese athletes integrate the tradition of training hard with the international approach to winter sports?
Sven Hannawald: For Germans, winter is a hot topic. My family is located in the Ore Mountains in the southern part of the former Eastern Germany. When I was a child, I went out to play and I could see how people played in the snow, then I started skiing. I saw ski jumping on TV and wanted to learn it. We had a small ski jump and I liked to jump off it. That’s how I played when I was little. After I saw good ski jumpers, world champions and Olympic champions competing on TV, I set a goal myself. As a kid I wanted to have the same experience as those on TV, so I become a ski jumper.
Xu Nannan: Training hard is definitely one of the most important factors in any great achievement. Chinese people have never lacked the spirit of hard work. However, ice and snow events began rather late in China. So it is important for China to communicate more with countries that have extraordinary athletes to improve their own sporting skills, tournaments, and the quality of venues. Only by truly understanding the origin, development, and culture behind each event can Chinese winter sports join the world family more quickly.
In January 2002, Sven Hannawald participated in the Four Hills ski jumping competition in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. Photo courtesy of the interviewee issued by China News Service
Lu Yan: In your opinion, Sven Hannawald, what are the key characteristics of Chinese athletes? During your athlete career, do you have any stories of exchanges between China and the West?
Sven Hannawald: Unfortunately, during my time as an athlete, exchanges between countries was very limited, so we didn't know much about the athletes of other countries. In those days there were very few Chinese athletes in ski jumping. I also heard about China winning its first gold medal back then, and of course such things would spread quickly. It's different now, Beijing is hosting the Winter Olympics. We can see China is making great progress, and today we have more communication with Chinese ski jumpers. I am very happy to see such a change, and I am looking forward to seeing how much China has improved after a relatively short period of preparation.
Xu Nannan: There are many stories that have moved me. The Chinese team began participating in winter events only recently, and in this short time the Chinese team hasn’t participated in many competitions abroad. It is cold and dry in China, and ski wax is seldom applied to snowboards. However, the weather in other countries is relatively hot and humid. When the snowboards are not waxed, it will affect the speed. We did not understand this at first. Once at the World Cup, an American athlete led us to her residence and taught us how to wax and care for our snowboards, then helped us to train the next day. Also, Norwegian players saw that our skis were very basic, so they gave us new ones. There were many similar things. This embodiment of the Olympic spirit has impressed me deeply.
Xu Nannan preparing for the Turin Winter Olympics in the snow. Photo courtesy of Wu Zhonglin
Lu Yan: What are your expectations and wishes for the upcoming Beijing Winter Olympics?
Xu Nannan: Beijing holding the Winter Olympics this year is a great opportunity to interpret the Olympic spirit and enhance international cohesion. As for competitive sports, the Beijing Winter Olympics can help develop a variety of sporting events and help to build better teams. Similarly, it can also help to improve sport training grounds and facilities, the organization of events and the training of technical personnel. In terms of leisure sports, more people, especially young people, are becoming more drawn to ice and snow sports. Through site construction, more favourable conditions have also been created for winter sports. In addition, the Winter Olympics has promoted the exchange and integration of Chinese and Western cultures, becoming a platform for mutual understanding.
Sven Hannawald: My biggest hope is that the COVID-19 pandemic will not have too much impact. Maybe the Winter Olympics will reduce the size of the audience. Even though it will be broadcast on TV, as a winter sports athlete I know how beautiful winter is, and watching a game in person leads to great enjoyment. I hope the pandemic can be controlled. I know that the organiser will make sure all other aspects of the event go as planned. Chinese people are definitely looking forward to this Winter Olympics, and I hope it goes well.
Lu Yan: The athletes are the Superstars of the arena. What is your expectation for the performance of Chinese and German athletes?
Xu Nannan: I believe the Chinese team has made sufficient preparations. They have been preparing for four years after all. No matter what the results are, I believe that the indomitable spirit of Chinese athletes on the field will definitely compare with the athletes of any other country. The Chinese team will also show the true Olympic and national spirit.
Sven Hannawald: We know that the Olympic Games are held every few years, and now it is the stage of refining, unfinished tasks are also yet to be completed. We look forward to meeting new countries, new cultures and new friends. This expectation also gives us the strength and motivation to perform well. We are also looking forward to going to new countries in the future.
In the Summer Olympics, the Chinese team become one of the strongest competing teams. If the Chinese team are able to continue this performance in winter sports, the day when China will win gold and silver medals in more sports shouldn’t be too far away.
On August 5, a sculpture of the emblem of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics stands at the ramp at the northeast corner of Jinyuan Bridge on the West Fifth Ring Road in Beijing. Photo courtesy of Hou Yu
Lu Yan: Beijing will hold the Winter Olympics for the first time. From the perspective of German athletes, what will the Winter Olympics bring to Beijing and the world, and what legacy will it leave behind?
Sven Hannawald: The host city will have good opportunities for construction projects. The athletes are hoping that they can stand on the highest podium at the end and receive a gold medal. When a country hosts the Winter Olympics, for 14 days, it becomes the focus of the sports coverage all over the world. This is an opportunity to showcase your country and its history, and reveal the future direction of your country to the world. When people think of the Chinese in the future, they will think of winter sports and skiing. As a former winter sports athlete, I think this is great. Winter sports are good fun, and I am happy that Chinese people can now enjoy winter sports. This is the clear signal from China that people worldwide will receive during the 14 days of the Winter Olympics.
Xu Nannan: Raising the level of ice and snow sport expertise requires public participation, especially the training of young enthusiasts. For China, how can we better carry out ice and snow sports on campus and allow more young people to participate? In Germany, how can more young people be encouraged to participate in winter sports?
Sven Hannawald: Like other places, when we have games, there is always a young audience in the stadium. They stare at us and watch what we are doing, and they will also want to try for themselves. Importantly, next to the platforms we use for competitions, there are always smaller platforms for beginners. It’s impossible for small children to start with the big jumps. But when they see these little jumps, their eyes light up, they smile, and they want to try it. For Chinese children, it is important that they can often attend ski jumping competitions, when they see it with their own eyes, they want to try and learn it. So that if there is no media coverage, no photos, and no live competitions, it will be very difficult.
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