Test run gives Harbin high hopes
The determined young skiers and snowboarders of northern China will have the perfect 'dry run' for the anticipated Winter Olympics when Harbin stages the 24th Winter Universiade in 2009.
Harbin was last month chosen ahead of main rival Erzurum in Turkey as the venue for the games, which draw athletes from around the world. It will also be the highest-profile competitive sport in the city since the 1996 Asian Winter Games.
Officials hope a successful 2009 event will pave the way for the mainland to stage the Winter Olympics in 2014 and showcase the facilities it is building in Yabuli, in Heilongjiang province, with the Olympics in mind.
Zhao Yinggang, director of the Heilongjiang Provincial Sports Bureau, said after the games were awarded to Harbin at a ceremony in Innsbruck: 'Hosting the Winter Universiade is necessary for bidding for the Winter Olympics Games again. It will be a bonus in helping develop winter sports in China and the experience of organising such an international sports event will be valuable in future preparations.'
Cheng Youdong, vice-provincial governor, promised: 'We will try to stage a Winter Universiade that is the best in history, with the largest participation and the highest level of organisation.'