China’s quest for gold medals sends Winter Olympics on intense training camps in Norway

A Chinese biathlon skier takes a spill down a hill during a race in Klæbu, Norway, January 19, 2020. Photo: Trygve Ulriksen Skogseth

China was not joking when the country in 2018 pledged its athletes will participate in all 109 events at the 2022 Beijing Winter Games and has been sending them on intense training programs in rural Norway to see it happen.

Beijing is the first city to host both summer and winter Olympic games and has gone beyond the expected investment in stadiums and infrastructure building 650 ice-skating rinks and 800 ski resorts by 2022. The Chinese government is sparing no investment either in the country’s athletes and is banking on them to do their very best and to do it fast.

A year before sports minister Guo Zhongwen announced the goal of full participation at the National Congress of the Communist Party in 2018, China sent hundreds of young people abroad to train in elite facilities with world-class coaches.

Norway, alongside the likes of Austria and Finland, was one of 15 winter sports powerhouses to sign an agreement with China to host and train athletes at their national facilities. Meråker in Norway and other initiatives such as the former Olympics host town of Lillehammer in Norway was home to Chinese athletes for a couple of years and is known as Norway’s “gold-medal” factories. 40 coaches in Norway were hired to train the Chinese skiers all funded by the Chinese Sports Ministry.

The 2020 cross-country season was however cut short by the pandemic and the Chinese skiers ended their training in early March. While the initial agreement indicated the athletes would return in autumn 2020 to train in Norway until 2022, the Chinese Sports Administration has decided to terminate the project in Meråker to keep closer control over the progress of their athletes in China. All the Norwegian coaches in Meråker received offers to continue their work, resettling in China, but so far none have accepted.

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