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World renowned speed coach Bill Begg shares his vast knowledge of skating every week in his "Ask Bill Begg!" column on the Inline Planet.

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June 10, 2010

What's Happening in China?

Q[Editor's Note: We dispensed with the normal format of Bill's column this week to have him tell us about his experiences in China, where he has been based most of this year.]

Everyone in China these days is on a mission, and my mission, as a non-native, is to help with the development of inline speed skating.

I am based in the city of Haining, site of the 2009 World Championships. The large Aolin skate team is based here, and 15 of its out-of-town members live with four coaches on the fourth floor of the No. 3 Aolin Apartments. They have two cooks who show up daily to prepare their meals.

I have a lovely one-bedroom apartment on the 24th floor. The apartment commands what is probably the best view of the city ... that is until the new high-rise across the street is finished.

I'd rather be living on the fourth floor with the team. That way I could work on my Chinese and share some bad English with them. Instead, I find a somewhat lonely existence in the clouds on the 24th floor.

There are few English speakers in Haining. So it's easy for me to get bored. But fortunately, I'm not far from the the Oasis Bar & Grill. The Oasis is a sports bar owned by an Aussie and his Chinese wife. It is staffed by friendly hostesses who like to practice their English and are always ready to whip me in a game of pool or table soccer. So for the price of a few drinks, I get a little entertainment and some company.

I have lots to keep me busy during the day. I work with local children with the aim of developing future world champions. I train coaches. I am involved in organizing the MPC Junior Cup for younger (15 and under) skaters in Asia and Oceania. And I am working with the International Skating Academy, which will provide coaching materials, courses and examinations for skaters.

Last year, I was involved in the launch of the Asianic Inline Cup. But we had a few hiccups with some of the federations. So we're working now on clearing the politcal grounds in hopes the speed world circuit will come alive in 2011.

Skating is growing steadily in China. Right now, there are five cities with professional skate teams with full-time skaters.

In Haining, the program draws on skaters from a 1000-mile radius. Some of the skaters are young — 11 to 13 years old. They go to school in Haining and train after school every day, except Mondays. On weekends, they train twice a day. They are paid a salary and earn "success" bonuses. Their parents rarely visit, so the team becomes their family.

This would never happen in the West. For one thing, we would never permit young girls to live in a setting with no female coaches or female adult supervision.

Recently, I spent three weeks touring Northern China to get acquainted with the local skating programs.

In Tianjin, a city of 12 million in northeast China, I gave a coaching seminar and met the university skating team. I also visited what is probably the worst banked track ever: dusty and misshapen with a point rising up in the middle of the track. I also stopped at the the city center, which is filled with people skating on the beautifully tiled surface.

In Xian, I once again found people skating on the lovely tiles of the central square.

In Harbin, China's winter sports capital, I gave a talk to about 30 skate coaches. But most of the coaches had an ice background and were resistant to the idea that there is any difference between ice and inline training.

They were coming off their coldest winter in 100 years in Harbin. The temperature had hit minus-30 degrees, and the Songhua River was still frozen over when I arrived.

I came down with a bad case of flu. It took me weeks to recover and left me with tinnitus which causes my ears to ring incessantly.

In Shenyang, a city of 7 million in northeastern China, I once again encountered a tiled city center filled with skaters. But the focus, once again, was on ice skating.

On my way to Beidahe, I had a four-hour layover in Fuxin. Fortunately for me, the freestyle skate team dragged me to the local war museum. I had little interest in going to the museum, but what a great showplace it turned out to be. It had animated figures that reenacted a famous battle between the Communist and the Nationalists, and I would not have missed it for the world. It made me feel like I was right there fighting in the trenches.

In Beidahe, I had expected to give an informal talk to a handful of sports and skate officials. But 50 dignitaries, including chiefs of the China's skating federation and four other national sports officials, were in attendance.

This had me revising my comments until the moment I was called up to the podium. Once there, I commended my hosts on the innovation and resolve of the Chinese skating program. But I also suggested some changes, such as ending their practice of having 12-year-olds lifting twice their body weight in full squats. This kind of training might produce some good junior skaters, but in the long run, it could prove unsafe. Any coach who tried this in the West would be lucky not to face child abuse charges.

China has a tremendous potential in inline skating. It has thousands of talented skaters and great facilities. And nowhere else in the world will you find young skaters working this hard.

But China's inline program needs to divorce itself from the training methods it picked up from ice. Once it does, it will join the ranks of inline super powers.

Cheers, Bill

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