News and Policies

China's evergreen halfpipe heroes hit the heights

Updated: Dec 11, 2023 By SUN XIAOCHEN China Daily Print
Share - WeChat
China's Cai Xuetong performs on their way to clinching the top two spots in the FIS women's snowboard halfpipe World Cup at Genting Snow Park in Chongli, Hebei province, on Friday. [FU TIAN/CHINA NEWS SERVICE]

With plenty of tricks up their sleeves and still some extra potential to tap into, China's veteran halfpipe snowboarders Cai Xuetong and Liu Jiayu have redefined longevity in the sport with their home World Cup heroics.

Four world championship triumphs, 25 World Cup wins, eight overall season titles over 16 years and counting — Cai and Liu's combined career accolades have enshrined them in the sport's history. Yet the prolific pair have refused to rest on their laurels, with a record fifth Olympics campaign on the horizon.

In a sport that demands exceptional athleticism, Cai and Liu have remarkably remained top contenders into their 30s, securing a one-two finish at the 2023-24 halfpipe World Cup season's opening leg at Genting Resort in Zhangjiakou, Hebei province last week.

Roared on by a boisterous home crowd at the Olympic venue, Cai took full advantage of the perfectly cut pipe to land a succession of dazzling tricks, scoring 93.25 points from her third run in Friday's final to beat a field that included Beijing 2022's silver and bronze medalists — Spanish veteran Queralt Castellet and Japan's Sena Tomita.

Already leading after the first two runs, Cai stepped it up anyway in her last attempt, leading off with a massive frontside 900-degree trick, into a backside 540 with weddle grab, followed by a big air-to-fakie and a clean cab 720 before wrapping it up perfectly with a stylish alley-oop backside rodeo 540 to clinch her 14th career World Cup win.

The home victory earned Cai redemption from her disappointment at Beijing 2022, where she finished fourth to miss out on a medal at her fourth Winter Olympics.

"I came back here going for gold this time, so I am so emotional that I finally stepped on the top podium here," said Cai, 30, whose tearful post-final interview at Beijing 2022 made for heartbreaking viewing for Chinese fans.

"Riding on the same pipe with the same perfect conditions, I am in a different mood now though (compared to the Olympics). I am just enjoying the moment," said the three-time world championships winner, who bagged her first World Cup medal in 2010.

"I am not young anymore. I will take one step at a time without setting my sights too far. I won't set any exact goals for the next Olympics at the moment, but I won't give it up just yet for sure."

China's Liu Jiayu performs on their way to clinching the top two spots in the FIS women's snowboard halfpipe World Cup at Genting Snow Park in Chongli, Hebei province, on Friday. [Provided to China Daily]

Born in Harbin, the "City of Ice" in Northeast China's Heilongjiang province, Cai's rise to winter sports stardom now seems a fated pathway. Naming her with the Chinese character Xue, which means snow, little did Cai's parents know that by 16 their daughter would already be a snowboarding world-beater — in 2009 she became the first Chinese rider to win a halfpipe title at the world youth championships.

Fast forward 14 years and Cai is well-positioned to top the overall World Cup season standings for a record-extending eighth time.

"I will participate in a few exhibition events, then compete at the 14th National Winter Games and go from there to see where I finish," she said of her overall title chances.

Giving the home crowd even more to cheer last week was Liu's runner-up finish.

Having missed all competitions since Beijing 2022, fans had begun to wonder if they would ever see Liu again on the halfpipe. However, the 31-year-old came back strong in her first official race in almost two years, riding like she had never missed a beat.

With a second run that saw her lead off with a switch backside 540 weddle, into a Haakonflip 720 weddle, then a frontside 900 followed by a backside 540 weddle and an ending of a frontside 720 stalefish, Liu scored 85.75 points to register her 24th career World Cup podium, reminding the crowd of her peak performance at the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Maddie Mastro of the United States had to settle for bronze, with just 0.25 points separating her best run, her first attempt, from Liu's second.

"I am back and I am so happy," said Liu, who won silver behind American superstar Chloe Kim at Pyeongchang 2018 to deliver China's first ever Olympic medal in any snowboarding discipline.

"To return to this place almost two years after Beijing 2022 feels like I've never left. I decided to come back after taking a long break because I just love this sport so much."

That unabated passion could carry her through to her fifth Olympic Games, where she hopes to finally land the ultimate prize.

"I feel like I still have a lot of untapped potential and I hope I can reach another peak of my career," said the 11-time World Cup winner.

Copyright©2024 China Daily. All rights reserved.


京公网安 京公网安备 11010502032503号