By Javier Triana
Beijing, Jun 1 (EFE).- Amid calls to cancel the upcoming Tokyo Olympics due to the pandemic situation and appeals to boycott the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics over political reasons, former Chinese Olympic Champion Yang Yang is unequivocal in her support for the event in the Chinese capital going ahead at all costs.
The 44-year-old former speed skater, who has 34 world titles including China’s first-ever winter olympics gold to her name, knows how to overcome challenges, and sees organizing the Games as just another one.
Yang is chairperson of the athletes’ committee for Beijing 2022 and the vice president of the World Anti Doing Agency, having become one of the most well-known faces of Chinese sport after winning the women’s 500 meter short track speed skating event in the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.
Taking a few moments off from her packed schedule, Yang talked to EFE at a training center for the Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympic Games, which will make the Chinese capital the first city to host both summer and winter olympics.
Question.- How are the preparations for Beijing 2022 coming Along?
Answer.- Everything is going as planned. The International Olympic Committee is happy with our preparations. We just had the testing activities for snow and ice over the past month. We learned a lot and I believe the team is ready for hosting the Games. Very exciting!
Q.- What do you think will be the highlight of these Games?
A.- At this special time with the pandemic, I think the greatest thing for the athletes is that the Olympics are going to happen (at all). For the organizing committee I know it’s very hard, but everybody’s working hard and we want to provide the best Games for the athletes.
Q.- You have participated in three Olympic events and attended a few more. Do you remember any other organizational challenges like the current ones?
A.- There was the 9/11 attack in the US and the world became unsure about what was (going) to happen. And as an athlete, you’ve been working on it for four years, and I remember in 2001 when things happened and it was very hard for athletes, (…) we didn’t know what was gonna happen.
But we chose to believe the Olympic Committee could protect us,
I remember those Games were very strict with security. (…) And for the first time I saw soldiers with real guns in the Olympic Village! But we all understood and there was quite an intense environment. We chose to understand and work with them, finally get on ice, on the Olympic podium and (I went on to) win my first gold.
Q.- After you, a series of Chinese women have won golds in the discipline. Do you think your victory inspired women athletes in China?
A.- And the men! (laughs) I’m just kidding. Because we trained with the boys and sometimes I could beat them and they were not happy – they had to beat me. We encouraged each other. I was very lucky to have the opportunity and the honor to (…) break the ceiling and win the first gold. And that brings more confidence to the following (generations): “If she can do that, I can do it too!”
I remember after I won the medals, in my hometown it became a popular sport for the young kids. Even now-a-days short track speed skating is very popular, because after me there have been a couple more world champions from (this) little town.
Q.- Tell us your career: how did you begin taking an interest in skating?
A.- I grew up in northeastern China, which is a place with a long winter and during winter the only things we play with are ice and snow. These are the only fun things. There was a skating club between my home and my school. So everyday on my way to school and back home I saw some skaters on ice, who inspired me to try it.
Q.- It wasn’t a very well known sport in China until recently, right? Its first appearance at Winter Olympics was in 1980, and in 42 years the country is about to host them. How do you explain this growth?
A.- As you know China has not only grown in Winter Sports over the past 40 years, (but) actually in everything: economy, people’s lives. I have experienced all this growth.