Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics: China scours Buddhist temples for potential gold medallists

A student of Shaolin martial arts performs in Zhengzhou, China, on June 6, 2018.
A student of Shaolin martial arts performs in Zhengzhou, China, on June 6, 2018.PHOTO: REUTERS

SHANGHAI (AFP) - A Chinese kung-fu monk rockets down the halfpipe, his robe fluttering behind him, bald head glistening in the sun, to claim snowboard Olympic gold.

It may sound like a sequel to hit comedy film Cool Runnings, but for Beijing 2022 hosts China this is no joke.

China is so worried about its lack of winter Olympians and losing face on home soil that it is plundering the martial arts schools of Buddhist monasteries in the search for a star.

Frantic sports chiefs have plucked 125 teenage students from the renowned Songshan Shaolin Temple in the central province of Henan in the hope their martial arts prowess can translate into medal-winning performances on the snow.

The latest batch of 23 students left for Beijing on Monday (July 30) for initial training in freestyle skiing and other Olympic disciplines, the Henan Daily newspaper said.

The best among them will then venture to New Zealand to hone their skills.

Medal-hungry China is turning to martial arts training schools as part of what it is calling "cross-discipline candidate selection" for Beijing 2022.

More than 600 prospective Olympians - boys and girls - have been hand-picked so far in Henan alone, the Xinhua news agency said.

China's General Administration of Sport, the government's top sports body, said the nationwide search was designed to "enrich the talent pool for ice and snow disciplines".

Officials are also considering asking talented skateboarders, acrobats and trampolinists to switch disciplines as part of the ramped-up recruitment drive.

It is easy to see why: At the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in February, China won just nine medals, only one of them gold.