Olympics Highlights: US Women’s Hockey Advances, China Wins First Sliding Medal and More

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Credit …James Hill for The New York Times

The descendants of some of the many Chinese people who emigrated to North America in the 19th century are back in China, playing hockey for the host team at the Beijing Olympics.

“My ancestors tramped to North America 150 years ago, but China has always been in the tradition of the Yip family,” Brandon Yip, who was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, and has been naturalized as a Chinese citizen, wrote in Chines a post on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter. “I also hope I, and our performance at the Olympics, can really help with Chinese ice hockey.”

When it came time for China to put together its first Olympic hockey team in a country that had little tradition in that sport, it had to turn to the Chinese diaspora in North America and beyond to cobble together a competitive squad.

Fifteen of the national team’s 25 athletes are naturalized citizens, including 11 of Chinese descent. Some are the children of more recent emigrants, but for some the links to China are quite distant.

Yip’s great-grandfather boarded a ship bound for Canada in 1881 and later became one of the thousands of Chinese laborers who built the railroads of the American West, according to an article on the WeChat account of Kunlun Red Star, the Chinese hockey club Yip plays for in the Russia-based professional Kontinental Hockey League.

Another player, Ty Schultz, was born in 1997 to a German father and a Chinese mother in Canada. His maternal grandparents were both accomplished Chinese athletes. His grandmother Zheng Fengrong broke the world record in the high jump in 1957, according to Beijing News.

Schultz’s Chinese name is Zheng Enlai, with the given name derived from Zhou Enlai, the senior revolutionary leader and premier under Mao Zedong, who met Schultz’s grandmother after her athletic success. Schultz acquired Chinese citizenship in 2017 and 2 years later joined Kunlun Red Star, which is based in Beijing.

Yip and Zheng are among several prominent naturalized athletes who are competing for China in these Games. The others include Eileen Gu, who won the gold medal in the freeskiing big air event, and Beverly Zhu, a US-born figure skater.

Four players have no Chinese ancestry at all. They are Jeremy Smith, the goalkeeper, and three defenders: Ryan Sproul, Denis Osipov and Jake Chelios. Chelios is the son of the Hockey Hall of Famer Chris Chelios.

Like Yip and Zheng, all four play for Kunlun in the KHL, which is enough to allow them to participate on the national team.

The NHL’s decision to withdraw its players from the Olympics over concerns about the pandemic certainly benefited the Chinese team, which avoided the prospect of facing even tougher opponents.

“If it was those kids against the NHL all-stars, it was going to be a total, total massacre,” said Mark Dreyer, the founder of China Sports Insider and the author of a new book, “Sporting Superpower: An Insider’s View on China’s Quest to Be the Best.」 “It’s hard to overstate that.”

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As it was, the United States beat the team convincingly, 8-0, in its opening game on Thursday night.

Two more formidable opponents remain: Germany, which won the silver medal in 2018, on Saturday and Canada, the perennial powerhouse, on Sunday.

Claire Fu contributed research。

Shiraki Emiko


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