Urban sports festival gathers top athletes, sports lovers

Chinese skateboarder Zhang Jie competes in the Olympic Qualifier Series - Shanghai on May 16, 2024 in Shanghai. Photo: Chen Xia/GT

Chinese skateboarder Zhang Jie competes in the Olympic Qualifier Series – Shanghai on May 16, 2024 in Shanghai. Photo: Chen Xia/GT

Accompanied by cheers and dynamic electronic music, Australian skateboarder Aaliyah Wilson glides effortlessly across the halfpipe, with her board seemingly an extension of her own body. Her fluid and graceful movements make her look like she is flying through the air.

“I’m really happy, I just had a good time with my team,” Wilson told the Global Times on Thursday, minutes after she finished her match in the Skateboarding Women’s Park prelims in Shanghai.

“My goal is ideally the Olympics, but also just to have as much fun as possible on my skateboard,” smiled the 18-year-old, who ranked eighth in the prelims.

Wilson is among the 464 top global athletes, including seven Tokyo 2020 Olympic champions such as BMX (bicycle motocross) rider Logan Martin, who have gathered in Shanghai to earn quota places for the upcoming 2024 Paris Olympic Games.

The “Olympic Qualifier Series (OQS) – Shanghai” is being held from Thursday to Sunday at the city’s iconic Huangpu riverside, where athletes in four sports – BMX freestyle, breaking, skateboarding, and sport climbing – are competing for over 150 quotas for Paris 2024.

“[People] will see an incredible level of competition in these four sports…[with] the very best athletes in the world,” Pierre Fratter-Bardy, Olympic Games strategy and development associate director, said at a OQS press conference on Wednesday.

It is the first-ever OQS event to serve as an ultimate qualification stage for the four sports for Paris 2024.

In the past, quotas for the Games were decided by associations of respective single sports through events such as tournaments, Liu Dongfeng, a professor in sport management at Shanghai University of Sport, told the Global Times.

“And now the OQS, as a multi-sport event of the International Olympic Committee [IOC], is expected to attract wider attention, and to stimulate the interest in these four sports among more people, particularly young ones,” said Liu, who is also a vice-president of the International Association of Sports Economists.

The four OQS sports share common highlights that make them popular among young people, Liu noted. “They are dynamic, fashionable street sports with some extreme sports elements.”

As a key project in the Olympic Agenda 2020+5, the OQS in Shanghai aims to offer the Olympic candidates a high-standard competition area, and also to bring the public an immersive Olympic experience that merges sport, art, music and culture.

A public sports festival named Urban Festival is also held at Huangpu riverside during the OQS, consisting of a variety of experiences and shows built around the four OQS sports. The Urban Festival allows spectators of all ages to have an inspiring experience while watching high-level competition, said the OQS organizers.

On Thursday morning, people at the Urban Festival were excited to see the presence of some famous Chinese sports stars, such as former Olympic diving champion Wu Minxia and former captain of China’s national soccer team Fan Zhiyi, who tried the four OQS sports perhaps for the first time in their lives.

“It’s a hard ride!” laughed a sweaty Fan after the 54-year-old tried BMX. He encouraged the public to try these sports, saying that they can help temper one’s willpower and build a strong body.

The OQS venue in Shanghai is a half-outdoor and half-indoor riverside sports park where professional athletes and public enthusiasts generally share a common space. Liu praised the creative combination of the OQS and the public sports festival, which he thinks is a meaningful effort in promoting Olympic sports and events.

“It is not merely a competition, but also sort of an interactive carnival that allows everyone to participate and enjoy the charm of sports,” he told the Global Times.

At a gate of the venue on Thursday morning, an 8-year-old boy, carrying a skateboard in his hands, was waiting in line to enter. Coming from Southwest China’s Sichuan Province, the boy, nicknamed Hengheng, had traveled thousands of kilometers to Shanghai with his family specifically for the event.

“I’ve come to see my idols. They are all great skateboarders!” Hengheng told the Global Times. With four years of skateboarding experience himself, the boy is also looking forward to enjoying skateboarding at the Urban Festival, apart from meeting top players.

Ticket platform data reflects the popularity of the event. All the tickets for the semi-finals and finals of almost all the four sports have been sold out, the Global Times found on Thursday.

The popularity of the event in Shanghai did not surprise Liu. 

“Shanghai has a good sports atmosphere with a broad mass base, and it has rich experience in holding major sporting events,” he said, adding that there are about 170 national and world-class sporting events scheduled to take place in Shanghai throughout this year. 

“Almost one every two days.”

For many overseas athletes, this is their first time visiting China. Some of them told the Global Times that they are very much impressed by the beautifully designed venues, good facilities and the great passion of local sports lovers in Shanghai.

“I love this [skateboarding] venue, it’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen,” said Wilson. She described her trip to Shanghai as an amazing experience that has been much better than she thought it would be.

The Olympic Qualifier Series serves as a crucial stage leading to the Olympics, and it is also a public festival where sports events blend with urban culture, said Shanghai Mayor Gong Zheng at the opening ceremony for the OQS on Wednesday night.

“Hosting the qualifier series in an Olympic year injects new impetus and advantages into Shanghai’s efforts to accelerate the development toward a globally renowned sports city and enhance its soft power in urban culture,” Gong noted.

The OQS employs a points system designed to determine which athletes will secure quotas. Athletes in the four sports get the OQS points by competing at the Shanghai stop this week, and later at a Budapest stop in June.

According to the organizer, athletes in BMX freestyle, sport climbing, and breaking will compete for a maximum of 50 points at each of the events in Shanghai and Budapest. For skateboarding, the points system is divided into three parts: results from prior competitions and the results from the Shanghai and Budapest OQS events. 

Chinese athletes seek Olympic qualifications through competitions

Huang Bokai of China competes in the Men's Pole Vault during 2024 Diamond League Xiamen on April 20, 2024 in Xiamen, China. Photo: VCG

Huang Bokai of China competes in the Men’s Pole Vault during 2024 Diamond League Xiamen on April 20, 2024 in Xiamen, China. Photo: VCG

Chinese athletes are making headlines at the World Athletics Diamond League series, which kicked off the 2024 season on Saturday in Xiamen, East China’s Fujian Province, with impressive performances from athletes like Liu Dezhu and Gong Lijiao.

As the track and field events for the Paris Olympics will take place at the Stade de France from August 1 to 11, Chinese track and field athletes are honing their skills to gear up for the competition.

After Swedish star Armand Duplantis invigorated the Diamond League race with a world record-setting pole vault of 6.24 meters, Chinese distance runner Liu Dezhu set a new pace in the 800 meters race, lowering the previous national record of 1:46.32, set 10 years ago by Teng Haining, to 1:45.66.

Apart from Liu’s breakthrough, China, as the host, had many top athletes compete, earning one gold and three bronze medals in the events. On top of Gong Lijiao winning the women’s shot put with a throw of 19.72 meters, Huang Bokai, Feng Bin, and Su Wen won bronze medals in the men’s pole vault, women’s discus throw, and men’s triple jump, respectively.

With the conclusion of the National Indoor Athletics Championships at the end of March, followed by the National Athletics Grand Prix and the World Athletics Diamond League, the track and field season has transitioned from indoors to outdoors.

Liu’s national record-setting performance, however, is still shy of an Olympic qualification of 1:44.70. His coach Shi Peng has said the team will strive for more opportunities to compete and aim to secure Olympic qualifications through world ranking points.

As the outdoor season unfolds, the Chinese team is also accelerating its pace in seeking Olympic qualifications. Xie Zhenye, the Asian record holder in the men’s 200 meters, qualified for the Olympics with a 20.15 second finish in the US earlier in April.

Besides Xie’s qualification, Chen Jiapeng finished a 100 meters in 10.08 seconds, making him the fifth Chinese male sprinter to break the 10.10-second barrier after Su Bingtian, Xie, Zhang Peimeng and Chen Guanfeng.

Though some promising signs have appeared, Chinese track and field still faces considerable challenges.

One major challenge is the one faced by the men’s 4×100-meter relay team, who are considered one of the pillars that underlines team spirit in the individual-dominated sport of running.

The team, consisting of Xie and veteran sprinter Su Bingtian, will make their final push for Olympic qualification in May at the World Relay Championships, following a mediocre performance in March with 38.99 seconds, slower than their record of 37.79 seconds.

With another Diamond League race to be held in Suzhou, East China’s Jiangsu Province, this weekend, Chinese athletes will have fresh chances to attain Olympic qualification if better performances are delivered.

More efforts are needed to increase the squad depth of Chinese athletics, as more and more athletics events are to be held in the country, led by a World Championships in 2027 in Beijing.

If China wants to take the lead in the athletics competition at the Paris Olympics, the team will need to make more effort. Fortunately, Chinese athletes are always prepared to rise to the challenge, fueled by their resilience and unwavering determination.