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Olympics bring Chinese hockey veterans back to the ice

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BEIJING (AP) For decades, Beijing native Zhou Yunjie kept his mother behind the puck over his teenage years.

That all changed after Beijing won the right to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, sparking a government-backed boom in winter sports enthusiasm across the country. The Games start on February 4.

Now the 60-year-old is back on the ice, proudly dressing up with his old teammates for friendlies and retellings of their time in Beijing in the late 1970s.

For years, I couldn’t talk about ice hockey, said Zhou, who owns a technology company in the Chinese capital. Even my family didn’t know… They were so surprised when I went on the ice and showed that I could play hockey.


Zhou is now a regular at competitions on Wednesday and Saturday nights at an ice rink in northeast Beijing. The games have become permanent fixtures in the lives of the hockey veterans who first took up the sport more than 40 years ago as members of an urban youth team.

In the 1970s, they were the stars of more than 200 future hockey players and joined the youth team of the Shichahai Sports School. The famous academy sits next to Beijing’s network of lakes, which regularly draw winter sports enthusiasts to their inviting frozen surfaces.

However, the competition was tough and after five years of professional training, they only managed to finish sixth in the 1978 national competition. A year later, the team was disbanded due to lack of money and public interest.

The players, usually 17 or 18 years old at the time, started a new life as the Chinese economy started to flourish.

Of course we were sad, said Mei Chunhui, 61, who runs a technical consulting firm. We had no idea what to do after that, but we couldn’t help it, so some of us went to college, while others got a job or joined the military.

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