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.

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.

Champion of Beijing Half Marathon mired in controversy of race rigging

He Jie crosses the finish line of Beijing Half Marathon on April 14, 2024. Photo: VCG

He Jie crosses the finish line of Beijing Half Marathon on April 14, 2024. Photo: VCG

He Jie, men’s champion of the 2024 Beijing Half Marathon (BHM) on Sunday, has been entangled in controversy as he allegedly won the race thanks to three African contenders letting him cross the finish line first. The incident is still under investigation, said one of the event partners on Monday.

The 25-year-old Chinese runner won the marathon with a time of 1 hour, 3 minutes and 44 seconds, a mere second ahead of Ethiopian Dejene Bikila and Kenyans Robert Keter and Willy Mnangat.

However, footage of the race shows that He was behind the three African runners down the final stretch. Instead of sprinting to the finish line, the three African contenders were seen to look back and waved He out in front while appearing to slow down. He, the national marathon record holder, eventually overtook them and won the race by one second.

Xtep, one of the event partners of the BHM, said on Monday that investigations are underway and further information will be provided as soon as possible.

“We have received reports from the residents and are investigating the incident. We will keep the public informed of the updates,” said an official from the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Sports after the race.

The incident has sparked heated discussion on X-like Sina Weibo with many netizens questioning the fairness and authenticity of the event. 

“The race is a disregard to the meaning of sportsmanship. It is not only disrespectful to other athletes, but also profanes the spirit of sports,” said a netizen on Weibo.

On April 12, the General Administration of Sport (GAS) released the “Management Measures for Sports Event Conduct and Discipline,” emphasizing that justice and discipline is the lifeline of sports and a crucial link in the construction of a healthy sports development ambience. 

The GAS maintains a “zero tolerance” towards issues regarding violations of sports conducts and disciplines, aiming to further increase supervision and punishment from the root and institutional levels and purify the environment for sports development.

This spring, numerous cities across China have seen marathons enter full bloom. About 40 marathon events took place in China during the last weekend of March with more events slated to escalate the road running craze in April. 

Both the Wuxi Marathon in East China’s Jiangsu Province and the Wuhan Marathon in Central China’s Hubei Province have set new records with registration numbers of more than 260,000 people.

During the Wuxi Marathon held on March 24, He Jie broke the men’s national marathon record with a time of 2 hours, 6 minutes and 57 seconds.

While professional athletes push their limits and amateur participants pursue physical fitness, the fervor of marathon events has largely spurred the local economies around the host cities, offering a fresh catalyst to local development in culture and tourism.

Growing international events call for more sports presenters

Li Zichao (right) conducts an on-court interview with US tennis player Sofia Kenin during the WTA Guangzhou Open in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province. Photo: Courtesy of Li Zichao

Li Zichao (right) conducts an on-court interview with US tennis player Sofia Kenin during the WTA Guangzhou Open in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province. Photo: Courtesy of Li Zichao

As a major sports powerhouse, China has witnessed a growing number of international sporting events across the country in recent years, attracting more and more foreign athletes and sports enthusiasts to the country.

Outside of the dazzling athletes and their record-breaking performances is a world that exists alongside the world of athletic performance but is often overlooked – sports presenting. 

Beyond merely announcing names and scores, a sports presenter shoulders the responsibility of managing the ambiance within the arena, transforming mere spectators into fervent supporters and elevating the overall sporting experience. 

When sports presenting is involved, the atmosphere becomes electric and dynamic. Be it the thrilling anticipation before the start of an event, the captivating analysis during the event, or the jubilant celebrations after the event, good sports presenting adds layers of excitement and engagement to the experience. 

As the industry has emerged from obscurity, it has been propelled into the limelight by individuals like Li Zichao, whose life journey illustrates the multifaceted nature of this evolving profession.

Li was among the crew of sports presenters at the Hangzhou Asian Games held in 2023, who often made headlines on social media for the engaging content they provided to audiences. But his career in sports started in a sport far removed from indoor competitions like table tennis. 

Golf challenge 

Having majored in grassland science at the Beijing Forestry University, Li had an early connection to golf, a sport in which lawns and greens are essential. 

“I started my career as a golf commentator in 2008, and since then, I have developed broadcasting skills and knowledge in the sport,” Li told the Global Times. 

Sports presenters often need to research and compile information about upcoming games, teams, players and relevant statistics as Li underscored. Strong research skills are important for providing accurate and insightful commentary.

“A deep understanding and passion for sports are essential. You should be knowledgeable about various sports, teams, players and events. This includes understanding the rules of different sports and being able to analyze and commentate on games effectively,” Li said. 

Fans cheer for the Chinese national table tennis team during the Asian Games in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province in September 2023. Photo: VCG

Fans cheer for the Chinese national table tennis team during the Asian Games in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province in September 2023. Photo: VCG

Different from many other sports with a double-digit number of athletes, in golf, Li often has to prepare the background information of 144 athletes, which calls for a huge volume of home work on every athlete. 

“The presentation isn’t just about relaying information; it’s about weaving together stories, stats, and emotions to transport viewers into the game,” Li noted.

Golf is a game that requires a lot of focus and concentration. Any noise or distraction can disrupt a player’s mental state and affect their performance, thus giving presenters very limited time to conduct their jobs.

“Unlike more fast-paced sports like soccer, basketball, or any other indoor sports, the action in golf can be subtle and spread out across the outdoor course,” said Li, who is now preparing his presentation content for the Volvo China Open golf event from May 2 to 5 in Shenzhen, South China’s Guangdong Province. 

“Presenters must be mindful of the timing to avoid disrupting players or spectators while still providing engaging commentary and analyses.”

Engaging with audiences

Similar to Li’s story, Dou Yujia also excels in sports presentation. 

After years of news coverage on the development of Chinese athletics, Dou now takes on sports presenting at large events, like the World Athletic Diamond League race in Xiamen, East China’s Fujian Province. 

In athletics, sports presentation often involves audio-visual effects, including music, videos, commentary, and lighting, thus making it easier to engage with audiences in the stadium. 

“Chinese athletics boasts impressive competitive achievements and China has a plethora of world-class athletes,” Dou said. 

“If we can develop a sporting culture through sports presenting that audiences could enjoy, especially with the presence of many children nowadays, they can enjoy top-notch athletics culture from a young age and learn about spectator etiquette, which bodes well for the future development of Chinese athletics.”

Li also seeks to inspire and mentor the next generation of sports presenters, nurturing a cadre of young enthusiasts eager to explore the intricacies of this burgeoning field.

Yet, the journey from novice to seasoned sports presenter is fraught with challenges and demands diverse skill sets. 

It requires not only a profound knowledge of sports but also an innate ability to captivate audiences and infuse each moment with excitement and anticipation. 

“Proficiency in both Chinese and English is essential, enabling seamless communication with a global audience as the audiences are often exclusively from China,” Li said. 

Sports presenters also serve as ambassadors of Chinese culture, incorporating elements of tradition to captivate foreign participants and spectators alike.

To better achieve that goal, Li opts to consult with local experts on how to share particular elements with an international audience.

“For many foreign athletes and spectators, watching a sporting event is also a chance to learn the local culture, thus making our job a perfect channel to disseminate the rich culture of China,” Li said.

With the forthcoming 2025 Asian Winter Games set to unfold in his hometown of Harbin, Northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province, Li, who was included as an ice hockey presenter for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, also aspires to contribute his expertise to the local event. 

“Witnessing spectators express their satisfaction with the sports presentation I’ve given truly validates the significance of my work,” Li said. “I just hope to have more opportunities to offer the audience quality content through sports presenting.”