First-ever Olympic Qualifier Series to open in Shanghai; top athletes set to vie for places at Paris 2024

Shanghai, China Photo: VCG

Shanghai, China Photo: VCG

 

A total of 464 top global athletes, including seven Tokyo 2020 Olympic champions, have gathered in Shanghai to vie for quota places at the upcoming 2024 Paris Olympic Games.

The “Olympic Qualifier Series (OQS) – Shanghai” will kick off on Thursday at the city’s iconic Huangpu riverside. The athletes, evenly divided between men and women, are going to compete in BMX freestyle, breaking, skateboarding, and sport climbing from Thursday to Sunday. 

This is the first-ever OQS event being held to serve as a final qualification stage for these four sports for the Games. “[People] will see an incredible level of competition in these four sports,” said Pierre Fratter-Bardy, Olympic Games strategy and development associate director, at an OQS press conference on Wednesday.

“We have the very best athletes in the world,” Fratter-Bardy added, noting that spectators can also try these sports.

In the past, quota places for the Olympics were decided through forms including tournaments, said Liu Dongfeng, a professor in sport management at Shanghai University of Sport. 

“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 people,” Liu told the Global Times.

Representing a significant milestone in athletes’ journeys to Paris, the OQS employs a points system to determine which athletes will secure the quota places. Athletes in the four sports get the OQS points by competing in Shanghai this week, and in Budapest in June.

As a key project under Olympic Agenda 2020+5, the OQS in Shanghai aims to offer the Olympic candidates a high-standard competing 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, will also be held at Huangpu riverside during the OQS, consisting of a variety of experiences and shows built around the four OQS sports, and their culture and scenes. The Urban Festival will let spectators of all ages have an inspiring experience while watching high-level competition, said the OQS organizers.

“Reaching out to and engaging with the young audiences around the world has been a very clear part of the innovation related to the Olympic program,” said IOC Sports Director Kit McConnell at an online media roundtable on Tuesday prior to the OQS. “What we’ve done is add to the more traditional sports by bringing in some of these really youth-focused sports and disciplines that we’ll see in Shanghai and Budapest,” said McConnell.

BMX freestyle, breaking, skateboarding, and sport climbing share common highlights that make them popular among young people, Liu said. “They are dynamic, fashionable street sports with some extreme sports elements.”

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

Refugee Team demonstrates Olympic spirit, sends message of hope

Refugee Olympic Team members will compete across 12 sports during the Paris Olympic Games. Photo: Courtesy of International Olympic Committee

Refugee Olympic Team members will compete across 12 sports during the Paris Olympic Games. Photo: Courtesy of International Olympic Committee

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has unveiled its largest Refugee Olympic Team to date for the Paris Olympic Games and a new emblem for the team.

A total of 36 athletes from 11 different countries and regions will compete across 12 sports including swimming, badminton and breaking during the Paris Games from July 26 to August 11, marking the third time for the Refugee Team to take part in the Olympic Games since Rio 2016. 

The announcement was made by IOC president Thomas Bach during a live-streamed ceremony from Olympic House in Lausanne, Switzerland on May 2.

“With your participation in the Olympic Games, you will demonstrate the human potential for resilience and excellence. This will send a message of hope to the more than 100 million displaced people around the world. At the same time, you will make billions of people around the world aware of the magnitude of the refugee crisis,” said Bach.

The establishment of a Refugee Team is more than an enrichment to the Olympic community. It is the best interpretation of the Olympic spirit of peace, mutual respect and understanding by promoting inclusiveness, unity, perseverance and fair play and it serves as a powerful reminder of the transformative power of sport.

The Olympic Games aim to bring together athletes from all over the world to compete regardless of nationality, ethnicity, or background. 

In 2024, for the first time in the Olympic history, the Refugee Team will compete under its own emblem, instead of the Olympic flag with its signature five interlocked rings. Bringing a unique identity to the team, the design of a circle of arrows around a red heart represents the team members coming from different corners of the world and sharing their unique journeys.

The Refugee Olympic Team symbolizes unity and solidarity among nations and athletes. It sends the powerful message that despite the challenges and adversities faced by refugees, they can come together as a team and compete alongside athletes from around the world.

Additionally, the participation of refugee athletes in the Olympic Games promotes a message of peace and understanding. It highlights the human cost of conflict and displacement while at the same time emphasizing the importance of global cooperation and support for refugees.

In promoting peace, the team’s purpose positions itself on the same level as the Olympic Truce, an ancient Greek tradition which required the cessation of all hostilities to secure safe passage for athletes during the ancient Olympic Games.

According to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there were an estimated 114 million people forcibly displaced worldwide as of September of 2023.

Supporting refugees and displaced populations remains a key priority for the IOC, and is part of Olympic Agenda. The Olympic Refuge Foundation (ORF) was established in 2017 to build on this commitment.

Representing the people affected by war and poverty, refugee athletes from countries such as Iran, Afghanistan and Syria will take this opportunity to raise global awareness of the refugee crisis and serve as role models to inspire individuals facing adversities worldwide and convey to the world a call for unity and peace. 

This year, the team will be led by Chef de Mission Masomah Ali Zada, who competed for the Refugee Team at Tokyo 2020 in road cycling. In an interview, Zada commented: “With all the challenges that you have faced, you now have a chance to inspire a new generation, represent something bigger than yourselves and show the world what refugees are capable of,”

The presence of the Refugee Team at the Olympic Games is a perfect example of how sports are able to promote global peace and the harmonious coexistence of mankind, said a Chinese netizen on X-like Sina Weibo. 

The Olympic spirit represents the universal values of excellence, friendship, respect, sportsmanship, and inspiration that unite athletes and people around the world in the pursuit of athletic achievement and human excellence.

The Refugee Olympic Team will definitely leave a lasting legacy beyond the Games and it is hoped that such initiative will lead to increased support and opportunities for refugee athletes at all levels of sport, encouraging participation, integration, and social inclusion in communities worldwide.

The author is a reporter with the Global Times. [email protected]

Nike runs quickly to outpace industry in China

Nike showcases its latest pipeline of innovations, together with 40 world-class elite athletes, during an event in Paris in April. [PHOTO/CHINA DAILY]

Global sportswear brand Nike is doubling down on the Chinese market by leveraging a responsive and localized creative platform as well as innovations centered on its patented Air technology.

The initiative — to drive growth — aims to bring in freshness, solidify its dominant position in the sportswear industry, and enhance its connections with younger consumers globally.

John Donahoe, president and CEO of Nike Inc, said the sportswear brand will continue to invest steadily in China.

“China is a very important market for Nike. It always has been and always will be. We’re committed to investing in China. We believe in China. We’ll keep doubling down on our proven playbook for success in driving innovative products in China,” he said.

Nike Inc posted a 6 percent year-on-year growth in sales in China to $2.08 billion in the third quarter of fiscal year 2024, the sixth consecutive quarterly increase here for the sportswear company.

This was powered by its Dragon Year collection during the Spring Festival holiday and innovations in running, basketball, women and kids categories.

The company has leveraged its global innovation platform to drive novelty in China.

“You will see us increasingly bringing exciting innovations all over the world based on Air technology,” said Donahoe. “We can hyper-localize them for markets in China and other markets.”

For example, the global launch of Air Max DN shoes is expected to have a China-specific version, featuring local colorways, collaborations, campaigns and engagements with athletes, he said.

Nike has invested more than 2 billion yuan ($276 million) in its technology center in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, and an automated storage and retrieval system in its China logistics center in recent years.

Nike is also investing in local innovation capabilities, as demonstrated by the establishment of its Nike Sport Research Lab this year.

The lab works with Chinese athletes and consumers to gain insight and develop innovations driven by, and unique to, the Chinese market.

The company is also investing in hyper-localizing its storytelling and brand through Icon Shanghai, which plans to be a creative studio program aimed at translating global messaging into locally resonant content, responding rapidly to the dynamic Chinese market.

Donahoe said it is crucial to stay close to consumers, particularly in China, where consumer preferences evolve quickly.

“We’re doing things to accelerate how quickly we can respond to the consumer. China’s really the market where we’re doing that the most. We’re leaning in, trying new ways to pull forward innovations and get them in the market.”

“We are going to speed up the innovation cycle for each season and each product based on the market feedback,” he said. “We want Nike to be a global brand for Chinese consumers and it’s of China.”

The CEO emphasized the dynamic nature of the Chinese market, describing it as “innovative and progressive, in style and the digital world”.

“We’ll continue to innovate in China, enhancing both online and retail experiences across over 6,000 retail stores,” he said.

“We believe that Chinese consumers are ahead of the rest of the world in many ways. We take learning from China to the rest of the world.”

Donahoe said both the Nike brand and the Jordan brand have several potential opportunities in China.

The company opened its World of Flight, a top-end retail concept of the Jordan brand, in Beijing last month. Nike has run mono-brand stores such as the Nike Rise, Nike Style, and the House of Innovation, its flagship store in Shanghai.

Digitally, the company operates its own applications, as well as stores on e-commerce platform Tmall and short-video sharing platform Douyin.

“What’s interesting is you don’t have a digital or physical consumer. Sometimes you shop online. Sometimes you go into store. We need to be there with both,” Donahoe said. “Nike is a premium brand and we’ll try to drive and deliver a premium experience in China.”

Innovation on Air

Competition in the sportswear sector in China has intensified, with new players capturing significant market share in their respective categories.

Kemo Zhou, consultant researcher at Euromonitor International, said in 2023 the overall sportswear market in China remained under the dominance of leading sportswear groups. However, intensifying competition from fast-growing brands has been a significant impetus for the growth of the overall sportswear category.

Zhou cited outdoor brands such as The North Face, Camel and Salomon emerging as major contenders.

Meanwhile, Lululemon has maintained its remarkable growth trajectory, Zhou added.

“Initially associated with yoga apparel, the brand has witnessed a surge in popularity transcending its core market segment. Consumers increasingly integrate Lululemon’s products into their everyday wear,” he said.

Zhou said the increased consumer interest in equipment-free exercise, particularly running and hiking, has fostered demand for sports footwear brands specializing in specific activities, such as niche running shoe brands Hoka and On.

Chinese fighters Zhang Weili, Yan Xiaonan to compete for UFC title

Photo: Courtesy of the UFC

Photo: Courtesy of the UFC

Reigning UFC women’s strawweight champion Zhang Weili will try to defend her title against fellow Chinese contender Yan Xiaonan in what promises to be an electrifying clash of talent as the duo meets in a UFC 300 bout on Sunday.

This marks the first time in UFC history that a championship bout for the coveted gold belt will take place between two Chinese athletes, adding an extra layer of significance to the event. 

“This marks a new stage for Chinese MMA. It’s the first time two Chinese female athletes will stand in the international octagon to compete at the highest level (a championship bout) and showcase their skills,” Zhang said. 

“This is definitely progress for Chinese MMA and will attract more attention to the UFC.”

After the fight was announced, there was much discussion online, with some netizens saying they felt uneasy about Chinese athletes facing each other. Some even expressed concern about whether there would be mercy between the compatriots. 

“I think this match is not much different from any other match. I have fought so many fights, and I approach each one with the same seriousness, striving to give my best performance in the ring,” Zhang told reporters. 

“We are all professional athletes, and there are no mental barriers just because we are compatriots.”

Zhang remains the more favored fighter in the polls before the fight. A poll on a domestic combat sports website showed a staggering 96 percent support rate for Zhang.

Both Zhang and Yan, who are 34, have been preparing diligently for this moment, each aiming to showcase not only their individual skills but also their resilience on the global stage.

The two fighters have a history that dates back a decade, having crossed paths in the MMA scene and even sharing a training coach in the past. 

Despite their familiarity with each other’s styles, Zhang remains undaunted, emphasizing that both fighters have evolved over time, making predictions difficult.

Zhang expressed her excitement about facing Yan, whom she describes as a dedicated and formidable opponent. 

“Many people may think that Xiaonan lacks ground techniques, but I believe her defense and resilience are excellent,” Zhang told reporters. 

“Whether it’s on the ground or in defense against takedowns, she does very well. This time I saw her practicing wrestling before the fight, and I believe she will improve.”

In Zhang’s eyes, every opponent is her teacher.

“Xiaonan is my teacher. I can learn a lot from her… Continuous improvement through opponents is a good thing,” Zhang said. 

“I think I have only scratched the surface and there is still a lot of potential to explore. Many things are not understood thoroughly yet, and they require continuous pursuit and effort.”

Zhang said she is confident in her own abilities and believes that their bout will not only be a display of technical prowess but also a testament to the resilience and fortitude of Chinese female athletes.

“I hope I can play a positive role in the development of Chinese MMA, encouraging more people to join in. I am very happy and honored to be part of this,” Zhang said.