By Si Thu Tun
Whether you want to practice your Flying V or polish your toe pick, Beijing’s ice-skating rinks are the perfect surface for some winter fun.
Found in almost every corner of Beijing, ice rinks form on frozen lakes, ponds and even rivers as soon as the winter hits its peak and the ice becomes thick enough. Refrigerated rinks pop up in December or even earlier.
Ice-skating on frozen lakes enjoyed a popularity boost in China after the country won its first Winter Olympics gold medal at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, U.S. The Chinese government started building ice rinks and snow skiing venues vigorously across the nation specifically after Beijing won the bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics. Even people who live in the southern areas of China where outdoor ice-skating never happens can still enjoy ice skating on indoor rinks.
Recently, a group of journalists from China Report ASEAN visited Beijing’s Houhai Lake to experience ice skating on one of the city’s most picturesque frozen lakes. Most lakes in Beijing including Houhai Lake are frozen solid throughout the chilly winter season. On popular frozen lakes such as Houhai, more activities than just ice skating are available. Houhai ice rink offers two different sections for various activities: One is for professional ice skaters and ice hockey, and the other serves as a playground for children and elderly people who can enjoy riding ice-bikes or ice sleds that come in different shapes, sizes and materials. Some even push their friends around in wooden school chairs attached to metal runners. The frozen lake also offers an ice-carved slide that frequently elicits screams.
China started participating in earnest in international ice-skating sports after its reform and opening-up in 1978. Before then, China lacked both experienced skating coaches and the necessary equipment for ice skating. Most skaters who took part in international sport events didn’t have the resources to train professionally—they were driven only by unstoppable passion and burning desire. So, China’s earliest ice skaters didn’t achieve any success. However, the years of struggles eventually paid off for the skaters who gained extensive experience from participating in numerous international skating competitions before becoming professional coaches.
In Europe, the Dutch are believed to be the earliest iceskaters. By the 13th Century, Dutch people would skate from village to village atop frozen canals during winter time. Later, ice skating spread across the channel to England, and ice skating clubs and artificial ice rinks began to appear. British royals and aristocrats became passionate ice skaters.
During ancient times in China, ice-skating was never considered a sport—it was more like part of military training and martial arts, According to the International Olympic Committee’s website, Manchu warriors were required to master the skill in order to travel 350 kilometers in a single day to meet their enemies. In the mid 17th Century, the early Manchu rulers moved their capital from the far north to Beijing and established the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). From that time on, ice skating became a traditional sport. Every winter, 200 proficient ice-skaters were selected to perform on the royal frozen lake for the royal family.
Winter Sports in China
Nowadays, many worldclass ice skating trainers can be found in China, but 40 years ago, the situation was quite different, especially for those braving international events. Before reform and opening-up in China, Chinese ice-skaters practiced outdated skating techniques and the country lacked any indoor skating rink. Skaters at schools had to pour water onto the playground and wait until it froze to have a skating rink. Moreover, they had to wear thick clothes to skate in the cold air. Yao Bin, one of the pioneers of Chinese figure skating and current national coach, recalled in interviews the humiliating experience at the 1980 championship in Germany, where the audience laughed at the Chinese couple’s inferior skating. To add insult to injury, they didn’t have elastic suits like other competitors. Such were some of the bitter experiences for the earliest Chinese ice skaters.
Later, retired athletes began training young generation from what they experienced and witnessed at international competitions. This is a key reason the younger generations can hold their own on worldclass skating rinks that were once dominated by European and American skaters.
Now, Chinese skaters are increasingly visible at the sport’s top international levels. Since China’s reform and opening-up began, the country has won medals in six out of 15 current Winter Olympics sports and changed the face of global figure skating competitions, which evidences that winter sports in China are growing and developing as well as gaining popularity among people.
In the lead up to Beijing’s hosting of the 2022 Winter Olympics, the Chinese government started opening more ice-skating rinks across the country, even in southern regions that never had them before. According to Star2.com, Beijing has selected 18 pilot schools since last year to offer winter sports training during physical education classes. According to Global Times , the number of ice rinks in China will increase from 200 in 2015 to 650 by 2022. Professional Chinese ice-skaters who have participated in international competitions will be able to use those rinks for training.