Shanxi celebrates in the spotlight

Next wave of China’s best young athletes competing in summer, winter and combined events

It might lack the nation’s big-name athletes, but the Second Youth Games of the People’s Republic of China is still a big draw, showcasing some of the country’s most promising future stars.

Thursday’s opening ceremony at Shanxi Sports Center Stadium in Taiyuan, capital of Shanxi province, coincides with National Fitness Day and will see about 30,000 spectators sharing the excitement.

China’s largest youth sports competition includes 49 events:37 for summer athletes, five for winter athletes and seven combined.

By the closing ceremony on Aug 18, 12,006 competitors from 34 delegations will have taken part, including 215 from Hong Kong and 53 from Macao. They’re housed in an athletes village encompassing 15 buildings, 1,900 rooms, 9,500 beds and a three-floor canteen that seats 3,620.

While Shanxi is embracing 34 summer events and two winter events at 58 venues spread across 11 cities, competitions that cannot be held in the province due to unique venue and/or weather requirements have been staged in 16 provinces and municipalities across China since January.

Besides fostering friendship and harmony between young athletes from all backgrounds, the aim of the Games is to spotlight untapped athletic talent.

“We have added more events to the Second Youth Games and have divided each event into two groups-a sports school competition and a sports social club competition,” said Zhao Xiaochun, director of Shanxi Sports Bureau.

“Athletes in the sports school groups are more professional, and most are training to be in the talent pool to represent China at future Olympics. However, there are many talented young athletes who join sports clubs, and they used to be out of our sight.

“We have also broken down many events into age groups. For example, in some we used to just have one competition for under-19.In theory, a 12-year-old could join an under-19 competition. Now we have age groups all the way from under-12 to under-19. In the first Youth Games, there were 305 gold medals. This time there are 1,868.”

In addition to showcasing superb competition, the games will provide a huge boost to Shanxi’s local sports development.

“Organizing such a large event is a great boost of confidence for us, and the experience we gain in the process is very valuable,” said Zhao.

“The Youth Games provide us a great opportunity to build and upgrade sports venues in the city-many of which will be used to host higher-level competitions in the future.

“We are also nurturing new talent because of the expanded number of events. It’s not just about athletes; it’s about coaches, referees and competition management. All of those things are crucial to Shanxi’s future sports development.”

Volunteers are another vital ingredient. About 45,000 signed up in Shanxi, with around 2,300 taking part in the opening ceremony.

Local college student Zhang Yating serves as a volunteer in the athletes village, helping competitors from all over China get settled while serving as an unofficial ambassador for her hometown.

“It’s a tiring job, but it’s also meaningful and I enjoy it,” Zhang told Xinhua.

“We show them the way, help them to get phone chargers, help them to copy documents and access the lost and found.

“More importantly, we communicate with young people from all over the country and help them solve problems and make friends. It’s such a warm experience.”

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