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08 February 2022, 09:36

Torchbearer completes memorable 18 hours

Dinigeer Yilamujiang (left) and Zhao Jiawen, a men's Nordic combined athlete, at the opening ceremony on Friday night.
Dinigeer Yilamujiang (left) and Zhao Jiawen, a men's Nordic combined athlete, at the opening ceremony on Friday night.

BEIJING, 8 February (BelTA - China Daily) - From being a torchbearer at the world's top sporting event to competing in her first Winter Olympics race, cross-country skier Dinigeer Yilamujiang experienced two memorable moments in just 18 hours.

Dinigeer, 20, and Zhao Jiawen, 21, a men's Nordic combined athlete, jointly lit the cauldron at the opening ceremony of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games on Friday.

Born into a family of skiers, Dinigeer grew up in Altay prefecture, Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, where a rock painting of people hunting on skis was discovered in 2005. Chinese experts estimated the painting was at least 10,000 years old, leading Altay to be widely recognized as the earliest known "origin of skiing".

Unique geographical and climatic conditions in Altay have made skiing indispensable in local people's lives. The prefecture has also become the cradle of China's Alpine and cross-country skiing athletes since the 1980s.

Dinigeer's father, Yilamujiang Muraj, placed third in a national cross-country skiing competition in 1993. He has been training young people in cross-country skiing since he retired from competition, coaching his daughter and discovering several other athletes.

He is now a member of China's national cross-country ski coaching team.

Yilamujiang said he has been excited and proud of his daughter since the opening ceremony.

"I'm as happy as my daughter for her to have the opportunity to light the cauldron on the Olympic stage," he said.

Zhao Weichang, China's first Winter Olympics flag bearer at the 1980 Games in Lake Placid, United States, and a string of other veterans handed the torch to Dinigeer and Zhao Jiawen, who were both born after 2000, embodying the spirit of passing on China's winter sports heritage, said Zhao Weidong, a spokesman for the Beijing Organizing Committee for the 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.

"The arrangement illustrates that China has successors in the cause of winter sports, passing from generation to generation, and also shows that China is a firm pursuer of the Olympic ideal," he said.

The number of Chinese athletes participating in the Winter Olympics has grown from 28 in 1980 to 176 this year.

Dinigeer said she was very excited after she learned she could be a torch bearer.

"I felt so proud at the opening ceremony of Beijing 2022," she said. "The experience will be a long-lasting inspiration."

In 2010, Altay formed a 20-member youth cross-country ski team, coached by Yilamujiang. Dinigeer was one of three girls on the team.

"She's got my athleticism," he said, adding that talent is one thing, but rigorous scientific training is essential.

Yilamujiang and his daughter often discuss skiing skills, watch videos of cross-country skiing events and practice basic movements.

In 2012, Dinigeer competed at the 12th National Winter Games in Northeast China's Jilin province. After the race, she told her father that she hoped to win a race one day and stand on the podium like a professional athlete. With her father's support, she went on to become a professional skier.

China set up its first national cross-country skiing training team in 2018. Talent and hard work helped Dinigeer become a member of the team and she later achieved good results in several international events, helping her earn a place as a member of China's sports delegation for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

Dinigeer's race at the Winter Olympics — the 7.5 km + 7.5 km skiathlon — was held on Saturday in Zhangjiakou, Hebei province. In a field of 65 competitors from 24 countries, she finished in 43rd place.

"It's my first ever appearance at the Winter Olympics," she said. "I can learn a lot from competing with top athletes from all over the world. I believe such experiences can make me progress faster."

Dinigeer and her father greeted each other as soon as the competition was over.

"We didn't talk much," she said. "Instead, we caught each other's eye and hugged. We both understand the meaning of that hug."

Yilamujiang said, "Completing the race is already a breakthrough."

He said the race was not all about winning, but also about the process and participation. An athlete cannot develop into a champion without going through intensive competition in big sports events, he said.

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