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Chinese Woman Coaches US Short Track Skaters


There are very few women who coach men at the top sporting level in the United States. It is far rarer to have one who is not an American. But VOA Sports Editor Parke Brewer spoke to one at the Turin Olympics, Li Yan of China.

Li Yan is head coach of the U.S. Short Track Speedskating Team. That means she oversees not just the women but also the men.

She told VOA Sports she does not have a problem coaching the men.

"I think I'm a strong lady, mentally, whatever, and [as for] ability, I think I have enough skill to handle them," said Li Yan. "I mean, you know communication and you know a lot of things you learn from work and, you know, you just have to figure out, you know, the culture difference.

Li Yan can command respect because she brings solid credentials to her job. She was a member of the Chinese National Short Track speedskating team from 1987 to 1994. When Short Track was a demonstration sport at the 1988 Calgary Olympics, she won one gold and two bronze medals. It became an official Olympic sport in 1992 at the Albertville Winter Games and Li won a silver medal. That same year she won two gold medals at the World Championships.

After that Li Yan became an assistant coach for the Chinese National Short Track Team, and she coached the Slovak Republic team from 2000 to 2002, which included a World Championship and the Nagano Olympics.

Li joined U.S. Speedskating in January 2003 as the Short Track Development coach at the U.S. Olympic Education Center in Marquette, Michigan. In June of 2003 she was promoted to her current position as National Short Track Coach and works with the team in Colorado Springs.

Li says she enjoys working with her group of skaters, as the have great camaraderie.

"The team, the teammates, they all work together, the ladies and the men, I'm coaching both of them, they all work together everyday," she said. "They treat each other like brothers and sisters."

And that makes Li Yans job as a coach more pleasurable.

Li believes her short track team skaters, both the men and women, have a chance to win medals in all of the events at these Olympics.

"I think we are ready, and weve been preparing for this competition for a long, long time," said Li Yan. "And the team spirit is really, really good. And weve tried to do all we can do to help the skaters do their best performance, and I think we are ready.

Her star pupil is up first, as the opening day of Short Track competition will feature the mens 1,500 meters final. American Apolo Anton Ohno will try to defend the gold medal he won four years ago in controversy at the Salt Lake City Games. South Korean Kim Dong-Sung crossed the line first but was disqualified for blocking Ohno. Ohno hopes he can make it a trouble-free win this time.