Olympics: Chinese still in winter sports 'second tier'

SOCHI, Russia - Chinese Olympic chiefs said Saturday they are satisfied with their team's haul of medals at the Sochi Games but admitted China still lags behind the top nations in winter sports.

China have so far won three golds and nine medals in total in Russia, down from 11 at the 2006 Turin Games and the same number in Vancouver four years later, where they won five golds.

The bulk of the success in Sochi came in short track speed skating but China also won a speed skating gold and two medals in aerials freestyle skiing.

The team's medal hopes were badly hit before the Games even started, when short track speed skater Wang Meng, who won three gold medals in 2010, pulled out with a broken ankle.

Despite the reduced medal haul, deputy chef de mission Xiao Tian said "we finished our goal", highlighting not just the medals won but progress in other sports such as men's curling, where the team finished fourth.

But he admitted China, bidding to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, was still in the "second tier" of winter sports.

"We need to keep a clear-headed view when we look at the distance between China and others," said Xiao.

"We only have a short history of winter sports and the overall foundations are very weak."

Xiao said China lagged behind European and North America nations in a number of disciplines and did not have the tradition or expertise in sports such as luge and bobsleigh.

Chinese athletes struggled to make any impact in the alpine skiing events and Xiao said this was partly due to a lack of good skiing conditions in China.

But he said there was scope for China to make speedy progress in some of the newer winter sports such as snowboarding.

"I think the experience in Sochi has been very rewarding. It's given us a lot of confidence. Winter sports in China started in the 1980s and after 30 years of hard work we have developed a team that should not be ignored on the world stage.

"We have great physical strength, we have social support, government backing and also China is a huge country of 1.3 billion people. We have a great talent pool."

"We need to popularise winter sports so more people are playing and in the national team we must have good and sound training," he added.

Xiao said the Chinese government had attached great importance to the Sochi Games, highlighted by the attendance of President Xi Jinping at the opening ceremony.

Under China's joint Beijing-Zhangjiakou bid for 2022, ice sports would be held in the Chinese capital while snow events would take place in the city of Zhangjiakou in the neighbouring province of Hebei, about 200 kilometres (125 miles) away.

China has never hosted a Winter Games but the 2008 Summer Olympics marked a key milestone in the country's emergence onto the world stage.