Farmers swap sheep for skis

People who will work at the Winter Olympics in China get fit and snow-ready. (Jun Yasukawa/The Yomiuri Shimbun)

People who will work at the Winter Olympics in China get fit and snow-ready. (Jun Yasukawa/The Yomiuri Shimbun)

Beijing — It may be hot outside but that doesn’t stop Chinese medics and sheep farmers from snow ploughing on giant white treadmills indoors.

They form part of the battalions of people learning the sport ahead of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

China is scrambling to build enthusiasm for winter sports before the Games. Its ambitious goal is to increase the number of fans tenfold, to 300-million, by 2022.

The doctors, nurses and farmers are part of this effort, training for several days a week to make the cut as volunteers and workers during the Games.

The training continued through the summer in the Yanqing district on the outskirts of Beijing, which will host several events in 2022, including Alpine skiing, bobsledding, skeleton and luge.

Inside the gymnasium, the learner skiers stood on two inclined treadmills that were being sprayed with water.

Lang Enge and his team of 25 farmers practised their moves to be able to do “whatever the government arranges for us”, such as cable car maintenance work, snow gear repair and operating artificial snow machines.

“Almost all farmers sold their sheep in our village;there are no shepherds now in Yanqing,” says Lang(29).

They sold their flocks after the local government told them they could keep them but could no longer take them to the mountains because apparently they were overgrazed.

Lang sold his 300 sheep and decided to focus on skiing instead.

The local government finances the training, promising jobs related to the Winter Olympics. Lang and his friends hope that by learning to ski, they can land permanent jobs in ski resorts after the Olympics.

In the meantime, Lang is working as a temporary traffic and public security employee for the local government. He said other farmers are working as taxi drivers, factory workers and car salesmen.

Doctors and nurses are also training at the same gym but for a different reason: working as medical volunteers who can rush down a slope to help athletes injured by attempting risky jumps and making high-speed turns.

“It’s a challenge for me. I hope to have more time to do my best,” said Jiang Wei(30),a nurse at the local hospital, before donning a helmet, and elbow and knee pads,jumping into the skiing simulator and getting advice from an instructor.

The farmers appeared confident on the slope simulator, slowly slaloming on the moving carpet, but the doctors and nurses were still grabbing onto a security pole at the bottom of the treadmill.

“I think the people I trained will be suitable for these jobs,” said E Yinchun, one of the trainers.

For the farmers in Yanqing this was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to get a better-paying job.

What will happen after the Games is still uncertain.Especially, Lang said, now that “there are no sheep farmers in town”. — AFP

Leo Ramírez

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