While these days biathletes from the United States and Ukraine are training at Soldier Hollow, the Chinese women's team is preparing for the 2002 Winter Olympics in the city of Lushun, a one-hour flight from Beijing.

In the city of 300,000 in eastern China, the athletes are training under head coach Song Wenbin and team leader Liu Geng. The most famous athlete is Shumei Yu, winner of the silver medal in the World Championships in Oslo in 2000 and first in the last World Cup race of the 2000/2001 season, again in Oslo, Norway.

Shumei Yu started practicing biathlon when she became a soldier.

"I was attracted by the weapons," she says, "and when I was a school girl, I had a dream: serving my country in the army."

Growing up in poor conditions, Yu earned more money for her successes than normal Chinese workers are able to earn in one or two years.

Yu's next big goal is to win a gold or silver medal in the Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. She considers herself strong in the sprint but she does best in frozen new snow and no wind at the shooting range.

She's not so sure she'll get that kind of ideal weather conditions at Soldier Hollow.

"I know that there are not many trees at the Olympic shooting range, so I think that there could be a lot of wind," Shumei Yu says. "I like the track, although it is on high altitude. Probably, I will come 10, 14 days before the start of the Games to Salt Lake City to get used of it."

The pressure is always present in the training camp, where the countdown to the Olympic Games is ever present on a big billboard. At the shooting range, the national winter sport federation of China reminds its athletes with big letters: "Let us train for Gold at the Olympics 2002."

In the short track speedskating and in biathlon, China has its best possibilities for an Olympic champion. Shumei Yu, who married Liu Bo last year, has what a champion needs: talent, mental strength, readiness to practice very hard, and an idol: Magdalena Forsberg of Sweden.

"I want to be like her. Powerful, when you have to be; in best shape in worst situations," Yu said.

She was overjoyed when Beijing was elected Olympic City for 2008.

"At this time, I will not be an athlete anymore. After the National Championships and the Asian Championships, both in 2003, I will stop my career. Probably, the Games in Salt Lake City are the last Olympics of my career," Yu says. In Nagano 1998, she was fifth in the sprint, seventh in the relay and ninth in the individual competition.

"I see my future as a wife and mother," the 24-year-old Shumei Yu says, "and maybe as a coach. Biathlon coach."


Egon Theiner is a reporter for the Salzburg, Austria newspaper Salzburg Nachrichten, where he covers Olympic sports.