Chinese snowboarders grapple with pandemic impact at MMA center


With Cai Xuetong, Liu Jiayu (right) undergoes a tough daily regimen of personalized strength, conditioning and nutrition – Copyright AFP Hector RETAMAL

Dan Martin

Chinese Olympic snowboarders Liu Jiayu and Cai Xuetong had a plan: compete with the best in the world and reach the top for the Beijing Winter Games, go for home gold. Then the pandemic arrived.

Prevented by Chinese sports authorities from competing abroad for security reasons, they endured what Cai calls a “really tough” stretch.

“It’s not (summer) the normal life of a snowboarder. We always travel to different countries, doing a lot of competition, but last season was totally absent, ”said Cai.

But the two athletes – among China’s top medal hopefuls in Beijing 2022 – maintain their advantage at the Shanghai Sports Science and Training Center of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), promoting mixed martial arts based. in the USA.

No punches are thrown, but the couple, both in their late 20s, endure a challenging daily regimen of personalized strength, conditioning and nutrition, all ruled by data-driven performance reviews aimed at identify and consolidate physical weak points.

Their experience highlights not only the lingering challenges posed to elite athletes by the pandemic, but also the willingness of Chinese sports authorities to think outside the box.

A long-term partnership between the UFC and the Chinese Olympic Committee was first announced a year ago, as China’s state sports system looks for ways to stay competitive in an ever-changing movement. evolution with new sports and advanced performance data increasingly playing a role.

Despite the image of a monolithic and closed Chinese sports apparatus, it is not uncommon for China to seek out best practices from the outside, said Kevin Chang, UFC Asia-Pacific manager.

“I think at the end of the day they’re looking for benefits, just like everyone else,” Chang said.

The UFC Performance Institute in Shanghai opened in 2019 to prepare Asian mixed martial artists.

So far, however, dozens of Chinese Olympic athletes have come forward as well, ranging from obvious candidates such as wrestlers and judokas to swimmers, cyclists, windsurfers and speed skaters.

The facility performs detailed “intake assessments” of athletes, measuring everything from muscle mass and body fat, bone density and metabolic rates, as well as comprehensive strength and agility tests.

– Frozen in place –

For Liu and Cai, it’s about making the most of a less than ideal situation.

Both are former world champions and are still among the best competitors in the world in the halfpipe.

Liu won the silver medal at the Pyeongchang Games in 2018 and both were supposed to try for gold in Beijing.

But China’s pandemic safety protocols for its athletes have kept them out of competitions overseas for the past year.

“It’s quite difficult because we can’t ride on the snow (for) enough time. It’s very bad for a snowboarder, ”Liu said.

It’s particularly disappointing for the Chinese Winter Olympians who hope that winning medals on their home soil can spark greater interest in their sports in China, where winter recreation is still in its infancy.

“I think it’s such a great honor (that) I have in my life,” Liu said.

She embarked on UFC training.

“I have to kick my ass. Go as hard as I can.

Without competition abroad, the two had to occupy their time in other ways.

Liu has focused on designing her own line of eyewear, while Cai has dabbled in documentaries and TV shows – she has just completed the popular Netflix series “Shameless”.

Both said the personalized programs during their 10-week stay in Shanghai were a welcome change from the group training generally favored by Chinese Olympic officials.

Liu, who confidently predicts a golden performance in Beijing, says everything – even the pandemic – is happening for a reason.

Such setbacks help an athlete “find out if you really like something or not,” she said.

“If you are really into a sport, you will continue no matter what.”

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