There is an old saying in China that “women can hold up half the sky”, and that proverb rang true at the Beijing Olympics where female Chinese snowboarders and freestyle skiers commanded the spotlight and pushed the boundaries of their sports.
In all, nine Chinese women freestyle skiers and snowboarders advanced to the final in their various disciplines, almost double the number at the Pyeongchang Games four years ago.
By comparison, only three men qualified for finals.
Chinese women were especially competitive in the halfpipe. At the snowboarding and freeski events, six Chinese women advanced to the final stage, an improvement from three at the previous Games.
“Each and every one of us girls have been working so hard these years, sparing no effort to improve the height, the difficulty and the grab,” said Li Fanghui, a first-time Olympian who finished fifth in the women’s freeski halfpipe final on Friday.
“Everyone did very well. We left everything out there.”
Athletes said the participation of Eileen Gu boosted the competitiveness of the women’s field because the US born athlete was bringing more advanced tricks to the competition.
Gu became the first freestyle skier to bag three medals from a single Olympics.
“(Gu) has raised the general difficulty (of the sport) and we are trying harder to catch up with her,” Li said.
Gu, who competed for the US team as a child but switched to represent China in 2019, has said she hoped to inspire more Chinese, especially young women, to participate in winter sports.
“If I can help to inspire one young girl to break a boundary, my wishes will have come true,” Gu wrote in an Instagram post when she made the announcement to represent China.
Young women snowboarders from China also impressed at the halfpipe, laying down advanced tricks in the qualifiers but just missing the podium in the final.
“If I don’t put down these tricks to fight at the Olympics, I will regret it for the rest of my life,” said four-time Olympian Cai Xuetong, who landed a complicated series of tricks including the frontside 900 in the qualifiers but finished fourth in the final.
Halfpipe champion Chloe Kim said the work ethic of Chinese women boarders was “inspirational”.
“Those two have been killing it,” said the American, referring to Cai and Liu Jiayu. “It’s such an inspiration to watch them ride and progress. I mean the way they continue to push forward this sport in their own way.”
Liu, who won silver at Pyeongchang in 2018 but finished eighth in Beijing, said she would definitely return at the Milan-Cortina Olympics in 2026.
“Everything is experience, giving me more confidence to improve in the next four years to continue competing,” she said.