Wintry pursuits in hot demand
Students enjoy a morning practice session. [Photo/seexinjiang.com]
Xinjiang's school kids warming to the delights of ice and snow sports
Ice and snow sports in Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region are providing a welcome winter warmer for the local school kids.
Despite piercing winds and freezing weather, Xinjiang students can enjoy a myriad of sports activities in their PE classes.
"After it snowed last week, our teachers first compacted the snow, then a sprinkler car watered the playground. After we flattened the ice, a skating rink was formed," said Ye Yongjiang, a skating coach at a school in the city of Wujiaqu.
According to Ye, the school boasts a long tradition in skating, and offers speed skating classes to pupils from second to ninth grade. Teachers guide the kids to improve their strength, speed and reactions, and initially ensure they learn basic skills such as squatting and sliding.
Fifteen-year-old Che Xueqin is captain of the school's speed skating team. Together with his 30-plus teammates, he practices skating for two hours every weekday.
"My body becomes warm while skating, and our teachers are always with us, so we are not afraid of cold weather, either mentally or physically," he said.
Ye, 45, also nurtured his interest in skating at the school as a fifth-grader. He became a PE teacher at the school after graduating from college, and since 2002 has cultivated over 20 athletes for sports schools and athletic teams in Xinjiang.
"I am proud to see children showcasing their skills on the rink. I hope they can seize opportunities to participate in some national competitions," said Ye.
At Silkroad Mountain Resort in Urumqi county, 14-year-old Akqi Sersbek listened attentively to his coach before boarding a conveyor belt and heading to the top of the slope. Sersbek and his classmates then skied gracefully down. "I love skiing! Our school often organizes lessons at this resort," he said.
Sersbek was one of around 160 eighth-grade students at Miaoergou Middle School of Urumqi county taking PE classes last week. Under the instruction of over 20 coaches at the resort, students first learned how to brake and then practiced turning.
Zhao Rui, head of the middle school, said the school has established long-term cooperation with the nearby Silkroad Mountain Resort. "Our students usually ski at the resort no less than three times every winter, the equivalent to the total time of eight to 10 PE classes," Zhao said.
She added that the local government has allocated an annual fund of 300,000 yuan ($42,000) to cover ski venue fees and the purchase of equipment.
"Over 90 percent of our students can ski, so we hope it taps into their athletic potential and helps them relieve pressure," said Zhao.
Getting their kicks
With the temperature dipping near minus-20 Celsius, a good warm-up was essential as students at Toutunhe Farm School in suburban Urumqi enjoyed a game of snow soccer.
Fifth-grader Li Haoyu was among those to sign up for the after-school activity and plays every Tuesday afternoon.
"Sometimes we take off our coats while playing snow soccer. It's a really good way to improve fitness and body coordination in winter," he said.
Li Deyong, a PE teacher at the school, said students are required to wear slip-resistant shoes as a safety measure.
"Students in our school play soccer all year round," said Li. "We first show our younger pupils soccer and let them feel the excitement on the pitch. When they grow up and if they are interested in the game, we will tell them rules, train them, and let them run and play."
According to school principal Ding Yafang, soccer delivers benefits for both pupils and teachers.
"Snow soccer can teach kids to overcome difficulties, and give them confidence and a sense of solidarity through cooperation," said Ding. "PE teachers are also getting more recognition as we increasingly recognize the importance of students' all-round development."