Feature: From Tibetan shepherd to YOG skier

Publish Time: 2020-01-17 Author: From: Xinhua

17-year-old Tibetan girl Suolang Chodron has come from a long way to represent China at the Winter YOG.

By Qu Peipei and Lu Xingji

LAUSANNE, Jan. 16 (Xinhua) -- Snow-capped mountains, Lake Geneva, the clear sky and clouds - all of these spectacles Suolang Chodron saw on top of the Alps reminded her of the Tibetan Plateau, where her hometown is situated and where she used to herd. It's also the place where her Olympic dream began.

Ranked fourth in sprint race and individual race of ski mountaineering, a sport which is usually predominated by athletes from Europe and North America, Suolang Chodron stood out at the YOG, her first international competition.

"I love ski mountaineering. It's special, I think, to climb and climb and climb..." said the 17-year-old Tibetan.

Suolang Chodron is always attached to home. She keeps Tibetan trinkets wherever she trains or competes. On the journey to Lausanne, she took with her a Khata and a whip (which she once used to shepherd), as a sign of good luck.

China's Suolang Chodron has part of a whip she used attached to her bag when she competed at the 3rd Winter Youth Olympic Games. (Xinhua/Lu Xingji)

Over a decade ago, in Xainza County, Nagqu, on the Tibetan Plateau, Suolang Chodron "herded quite a lot of sheep".

At the fourth grade, she was selected into the sports school of Nagqu for long-distance running. After that her parents decided to give her full support and relieved her from herding.

But her biggest dream was to become a basketball player. "Basketball has always been my favorite," she said. Later she was enrolled into the basketball team of the Tibetan Sports School.

Never had she thought of taking up ski mountaineering until being admitted into the Tibet Ski Mountaineering Team in 2017.

In the new team, Suolang Chodron pushed herself no less harder than she did in basketball. "She didn't rest even when she was sick. If I asked her to stop, she'd cry," said Ngawang Tashi, coach of Tibet Ski Mountaineering Team. "At night she'd practice transitions in the climbing section, transiting from carrying the skis to wearing them or vice versa."

Not soon later the China Mountaineering Association was recruiting the national youth team for the 2020 Lausanne Winter Youth Olympic Games, Suolang Chodron was called up.

As the big day neared, Suolang Chodron showed even more ability to cope with the intense and stressful training in the national team, as she described: "in every drill I kept reminding myself of what the coach said. If I couldn't do it this time, I'd try again. If I couldn't do it today, I'd go to sleep and go on tomorrow."

Tibet Ski Mountaineering Team train at the Luodui Mountain in Lhasa, southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region.

"So you can tell how much she loves the sport. Ski mountaineering requires the athletes to be detail-oriented, and she's doing well at almost every detail. So that's what made her this far," said Jin Yubo, coach of the National Ski Mountaineering Youth Team.

Being far away from home, the girl said she could be homesick sometimes. "But if I need to keep going, I couldn't really go home. Then I think I'd better get good results. I don't want to let my parents down."


In Lausanne, Suolang Chodron's peer competitors are mostly from the traditional ski powerhouses like Norway, France and Switzerland.

"The children living near the Alps often start skiing from three or four and do ski mountaineering from 12 or so," said Andrew, the Italian coach of China's Youth Team.

Getting into the top three has been her "mini-goal" since after the Jan. 10 individual race, a goal which she announced sotto voce but unyieldingly. In the sprint race on Jan. 13, Suolang Chodron got fourth again. Crossing the finish line, she kneeled on the trail, full of regret. "I'm not crying. I just couldn't help it when my coach came to me."

Still, by any standard, Suolang Chodron is a miracle. She put on the skis for the first time only less than three years ago, and now she finished the fourth place in the YOG.

Wang Yongfeng, Vice President of China Mountaineering Association said that such a result was unconceivable three years ago. At that time, they couldn't expect the players to even finish the race.

Knowing her deficiency in downhill section, Suolang Chodron put much effort into speeding up her climbing. Unexpectedly, her speed made her one of the most recognizable players. People shouted on the field and mountain railways: "She's the very fast Chinese girl!"


Ski mountaineering is not an official sport in the Winter Olympic Games. After its debut at the YOG, its entry into the Olympic Games is much expected. It is anticipated to happen as early as in 2026, prime time for Suolang Chodron and her teammates.

"It's thrilling to watch such a fierce competition. Also, ski mountaineering could be a practical skill in some Chinese regions with rich snowfall, like it is in Europe," said Jin Yubo, who is optimistic about the ski mountaineering's inclusion in the Winter Olympics.

Suolang Chodron (R) and her teammate Yu Jingxuan celebrate after their races at the 3rd Winter Youth Olympic Games (YOG) held at Villars Winter Park in Villars, Switzerland on Jan. 10, 2020. (Xinhua/Lu Xingji)

"It's our first international show. We lack experience so we really need to participate in more competitions," said Andrew. "But I believe sooner or later we'll 'beat' them."

Suolang Chodron said she had not thought that far ahead. Apart from honing her skills, she is looking forward to studying in university.

"My brother's in university now. We have a video call every night except for match days. I often read a book word by word to him," she said.

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