Prospective members of China's ski jumping team train in Norway during the Lunar New Year festival. (Photo/Xinhua)
China's prospective Olympians hit the hills at European training camps
Thousands of miles from home, Chinese athletes are sweating it out on the snowy slopes of Europe in pursuit of their Olympic dream.
On Lunar New Year's Eve, with temperatures plummeting to near-20 C, nine Chinese teenagers hit the hill at Kremmerlibakkene, near the central Norwegian city of Lillehammer.
The group, comprised of 16- to 19-year-olds, is part of China's bold bid to convert athletes from nonwinter sports to snow and ice pursuits in order to have full participation at the 2022 Beijing Winter Games.
The four boys and five girls have given up careers in sports such as athletics, boxing and gymnastics to try to master the hair-raising art of ski jumping.
When they arrived in Norway in August, most had never even worn skis before.
Falls and crashes were common in those early days, but less than six months later successful landings are the norm - albeit on a small hill.
"We spent a lot of time practicing indoors, so when we started on snow, the progress was pretty fast. I think they have made good progress," the group's Norwegian coach, Erik Renmaelmo, told Xinhua.
"Right now it's difficult to see exactly how far they can go, but of course we hope they can go as far as possible. The Olympics is the goal."
That journey, however, is already over for the majority of the hopefuls who traveled to Norway last summer, with 13 failing to make the grade.
The remaining nine are steadfast in their resolve to realize their dream.
"My biggest wish of course is to take part in the 2022 Winter Olympics and it is our goal. But for now it's to do my best in daily training," said Zhai Yujia, an 18-year-old former trampolinist.
Meanwhile, on New Year's Day in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a similar scene played out on the awe-inspiring slopes of Mount Yahorina, one of the venues for the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics.
Amid an unforgiving downpour, the sweat- and rain-drenched faces of Jiang Yuliang and Wang Kexin were testament to the grueling sport of cross-country skiing.
The pair had just competed in 4km and 2km competitions involving their own Tianjin Cross-Country Ski Team and five local clubs.
Jiang and Wang both placed third in the men's and women's races, respectively.
The Tianjin team has been training in Bosnia for around two months, and their newly hired coach is impressed by their efforts so far.
"These kids from China train very hard," said Tanya Kosarak. "Some of them are very talented."
Chinese coach Du Jiliang was also pleased with the progress made. He said his hardy bunch trains four to five times a week, covering around 25-30 km each time, regardless of the conditions.
The youngest member of his 14-strong squad is just 12 years old, with the oldest 17.
They mainly hail from northern provinces such as Heilongjiang and Jilin, but most have only been skiing for three to four months.
Their goal is to prepare for the 15th National Winter Games in 2024, but the expectation is that at least one will compete at their home Olympics in Beijing and Zhangjiakou.
Whoever makes it to the start line in Hebei province in 2022 will be able to look back fondly on these days of toil.