Coach Hu Jiang explains tactics in Beijing last month to members of China's ice hockey team. (Photo provided to CHINA DAILY)
For coach Hu Jiang and China's ice hockey players, the clock is ticking to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.
He has often felt the weight of a nation in his selection and training of players for the event.
"Ice hockey is quickly growing in China, especially in terms of the number of players and the scale of tournaments. But it still takes time to close the gap with the superpowers in the game," said Hu, who is also a deputy representing the Heilongjiang province at the National People's Congress.
The International Ice Hockey Federation has granted China spots in the men's and women's section for 2022. China was ranked 33rd in the 2018 men's world rankings.
Hu has just returned from a training camp in Finland with his players before attending the annual legislative session in March. "We are trying our best to meet the nation's expectations for the upcoming Winter Olympics."
The 43-year-old built his coaching reputation with Qiqihar, Heilongjiang province, where he grew up and received training as an ice hockey player.
He started playing the game when he was 10, and turned professional in 1992. "The training of professional teams has always been rigid, with the inevitable injuries and fatigue. But I never allowed any complacency," he recalled.
He was first selected by the national team in 1997, and remained part of the national squad before retiring in 2008.
Hu attributed his success as a player to hard work during training and his natural fitness.
After his retirement, Hu became an assistant coach with Qiqihar's men's hockey team. He was appointed head coach in 2013.
He went on to guide the team to several national championships and trophies between 2013 and 2018.
His love for the game also empowered him to guide his son, Hu Wenhan, 14, to become an ice hockey player.
"To me, ice hockey is the best way to improve physical fitness and the team spirit of a child," he said.
However, Hu can barely spare time to coach his son, who has been training under his own coaches.