(Changes reference to Inner Mongolia from ‘province’ to ‘region’)
YANQING, China (Reuters) -It was Fan Duoyao’s first run in the luge men’s singles but his face was already beaming as he pumped his fist in the air and posed for the cameras, having become China’s first Olympic competitor in the sport.
The 24-year-year-old from China’s northern region of Inner Mongolia ended up finishing 24th out of 34 athletes on Sunday.
But that was remarkable progress, given that Fan had never even seen the sport in China when the country started building the luge team from scratch seven years.
“I think it went great,” Fan said after his third run.
“We’ve been through a lot from 2015 up to today. We’ve overcome a lot of challenges, everyone’s worked hard and we hope we can do better and better, and take China luge to the world.”
Fan had been an endurance skier before becoming one of eight athletes chosen for the national luge team seven years ago.
“In the beginning I was scared because I’d never seen this sport in China before,” Fan said.
“I even thought about giving up. But after about a year of training, I became seduced by this exhilarating sport. I felt the urge to challenge and conquer it.”
Fan became the first Chinese man to enter the Luge World Cup last November. He finished last among 32 contenders, highlighting the strides made to place 24th on Sunday.
He naturally received the biggest cheers of all the athletes when he finished his runs at the Yanqing National Sliding Centre, which only finished construction last year.
But with tough restrictions limiting attendance due to COVID-19 the home advantage was still minimal compared to a typical Olympic event.
Medals went to athletes from countries that have long dominated the sport with Germany’s Johannes Ludwig setting two track records for his gold, while Austria’s Wolfgang Kindl took silver and Italy’s Dominik Fischnaller claimed bronze.
Fan could not say how China would do in four years’ time at the Games in Italy but he is optimistic.
“Sports show the strength of our country,” he said. “Although we started later, we’re catching up.”
Fan’s team mate Wang Peixuan will be competing in the first and second runs of the luge women’s’ singles on Monday, having placed 32nd out of 35 in the training runs.
(Reporting by David Kirton; Editing by Ken Ferris)