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From the Silver Screen to the Ski Trail

2022-01-17 15:06:00 Source:China Today Author:CAO YAQI
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A child actor grows into one of the world’s most promising snowboarders.

A search for the name of Su Yiming on Baidu produces over 7 million results. The teenage snowboarder has made waves in ski circles in recent years, first for becoming the first Chinese snowboarder successfully performing the Cab (Caballerial) 1800 trick, and later for being the first in the world to complete the incredibly challenging Bs 1980 Indy Crail trick. 

Su first entered public visibility as a child actor, playing the role Shuanzi in The Taking of Tiger Mountain, a 2014 film directed by Tsui Hark. Few expected him to emerge as one of the world’s most promising snowboarders years later. 

Su Yiming of the Chinese team competing in the Men’s Snowboard Big Air World Cup finals at the Steamboat Resort in Steamboat Springs, Colorado on December 4, 2021. 

Passion Since Childhood 

Su Yiming was born in Jilin Province, which has long and harsh winters. His parents introduced Su to the sport of snowboarding when he was around four years old. Snowboards for children were unavailable in China in those days, so he used a board for adults, which was taller than he was. 

The little boy immediately fell in love with the sport and spent all his spare time learning how to do it. He got up early in the morning, finished homework as quickly as he could, and headed into the mountains despite the threat of frostbite. He soon built a reputation in the snowboarding circle and was sponsored by a world-famous snowboard brand at the age of seven. 

This athletic prowess also won Su a role in The Taking of Tiger Mountain, a film about the army led by the Communist Party of China wiping out bandits in the snowy mountains in northeast China in the 1940s. The crew needed a child of his age who could ski faster than adults in one of the scenes. The director knew that Su was the one they were looking for after watching a video of him. 

After debuting in The Taking of Tiger Mountain, Su appeared in more films and TV dramas, such as Rock Kid, A Splendid Life in Beijing, and The Wolf. 

Back on the Snow Slopes 

Beijing and Zhangjiakou won the bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2015. This inspired Su to pursue further achievements in the sport. “On hearing the news that the winter games would be held in Beijing, I dreamed of competing in them. But to qualify, I needed results in professional contests. So, from that moment, I decided to become a professional snowboarder, as this was the only way to enter professional contests,” Su explained. 

In fact, Su had been on the list of candidates for the Chinese national snowboarding team thanks to the recommendation of a Japanese coach who tutored him back in 2012. 

Su was officially admitted onto the national team in 2018. The following year, he won first place in the 2019 Spy Optics New Zealand Freestyle Open Rookie Fest Slopestyle Finals, at Cardrona Alpine Resort, New Zealand. Su beat many world-renowned athletes from whom he had learned by watching videos of their performances. 

The championship reinforced the teen’s self-confidence. “Competing with them was a great joy in itself. I was confident about completing my set, but I did not expect I would win gold. I was thrilled at that moment. The victory was a self-affirmation as well as a good augury for my snowboarding career,” the young athlete recalled his first international championship. 

Su Yiming celebrates on the podium after winning the Men’s Snowboard Big Air World Cup finals at Steamboat Resort on December 4, 2021 in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. 

Setting Records 

In the following years, Su won more awards and set more records. In 2020 and 2021, he made a clean sweep of the gold medals in national slopestyle and big air events. In March 2020, he pulled off the Bs Triple Cork 1620 Mute, the first Chinese snowboarder to do so. In January 2021, he again made history in Chinese snowboarding for completing the Cab 1800. In October 2021, he became the first person in the world to finish an insane stunt called Backslide 1980 Indy Crail in Austria. So far, no more than five people around the world can perform this stunt, and Su is the youngest among them. 

“I think the collective level of Chinese snowboarders is improving. The sport is relatively new in China, and we lag behind globally. It seemed that we could not catch up. After I chose to be a professional athlete, I have been trying to follow their [the best snowboarders in the world] steps. My goals might be what they had achieved five or 10 years ago, but I am making progress step by step,” Su explained. “I spend lots of energy and time on practice and keep improving myself. Now I am on par with them.” 

When asked about his goals at the Beijing 2022, he was candid, “I have always been aiming for gold. I will do my best no matter what. If I finish the set as planned, I will be happy regardless of the scores.” 

Aiming High 

To achieve his goals, Su adheres to a grueling training regimen. During the training session in the Changbai Mountains in northeast China, he was always the first to arrive at the training ground so that he could have two or three additional hours for practice. He also increased the intensity of training and attempted more new stunts. The intensity of the training led him to break several snowboards in a single week. 

The young athlete has even more exacting requirements for himself than his coach. “I am the only one who knows if I am up to a satisfactory level. It is hard to express in words. The process from jumping off to landing involves so many details. How it appears to onlookers and how it is perceived by me may be different, and the latter is more important. I will repeat the sets until I am completely satisfied with myself,” Su said. 

Communication with coaches is important for athletes, especially when the coaches are from different countries. Su, fluent in English and Japanese, finds no difficulty in communicating with foreign coaches. 

“Of course, I need to talk with my coach about key technical issues, but what’s more important is to put energy and time in studying a trick and practice it. I usually work on a new move for six hours a day, and sometimes it takes a whole summer to master one trick,” Su said. But he added that he won’t push the body and mind beyond their respective limits. Having mastered the most challenging stunts in the world so far, he sees no necessity to take on more difficult ones. His focus is instead on ensuring stable performance of these stunts. 

Su once said in his twitter-like Weibo post that he loves the feeling of flying. But now he has no time to relish the feeling while performing a stunt. “When doing a simple set, I don’t need to think much of it, and I can just look around or upward into the sky. But when performing a difficult move, I have to think about all the specifics.” 

Interest in Acting Persists 

Su’s passion about snowboarding has grown over the last decade as he practiced and competed as a professional athlete. “When I was an amateur, I watched videos to study snowboarding movements. Now as a professional athlete, I need to not only watch videos of myself and other players, but also study the moves and tactics for improvement. I love snowboarding, and will always work on it,” Su said. 

Su dabbled in skiing during the production of The Taking of Tiger Mountain, as was required by his role. But he thinks snowboarding is cooler. Su once wrote in a Weibo post that he would love to divide his time among schooling, acting, and snowboarding. But for now, he is 100 percent committed to the sport in preparation for the Beijing Winter Olympic Games. 

“It is a great honor for me to compete in the Olympic Games. I feel the pressure as well as great motivation, as I know many people are watching and supporting me, and they have expectations from me. This is a rare opportunity for me and for the sport of snowboarding. I will put everything into the games. Whatever the outcome, I will feel no regret as long as I tried my best,” he said. 

A typical Generation Z, Su is active on social media, interacting with other top snowboarders in the world. “Snowboarders are like a big family. We are rivals in contests, but friends off the trails. I am more than delighted to see other players write comments on my posts and the International Ski Federation share my videos on its official account,” Su said. 

Talking of the future, the teen plans to continue his education while maintaining his athletic career. He will also resume performance for films and TV dramas. “I wish to present myself in different realms, and I wish that people associate me with different roles, a snowboarder, an actor, or a student. Whatever I do, I will be devoted to it. One can only do something well when they do their best,” Su said. 

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