A natural paradise in Northwest China is reaping the benefits of sports — both on and off the field of play
Once known as “a faraway fairyland” in Northwest China’s Qinghai province, now it is a sports wonderland and boasts the nation’s first Tibetan Olympic champion, Qieyang Shijie.
Even when she is thousands of miles away from home, images of the idyllic area are never far from race walker Qieyang’s mind — herds of cattle and sheep wandering around the prairie, with the voice of nature the only sound in the midday sun.
Qieyang was born in 1990 into a local herder’s family in Haiyan county, in northeastern Qinghai’s Haibei Tibetan autonomous prefecture. Her athletic potential was discovered at a local sports meet.
“When I was young, I loved running because it was fun, and I also ran to chase the herds. At that time, I did not know sports could change my destiny,” said Qieyang.
On the advice of a local coach, she turned professional and was soon selected for China’s national team.
“I started from the local training team, and then I was recommended to a provincial sports school where I changed my event to race walking. Two years later, I joined the national team. For me, it all happened so fast, but I still remember the muddy track in Haiyan and those endless training sessions,” said Qieyang.
Making her Olympic debut at London 2012, Qieyang finished third in the women’s 20-kilometer race walk. Ten years later, Qieyang was promoted to first place after original champion Elena Lashmanova of Russia was disqualified for doping. Previously, Russia’s Olga Kaniskina had also been stripped of her silver medal. Thus, Qieyang became China’s first Tibetan Olympic champion.
Now, as a role model for local kids, she is inspiring more people in Haiyan to follow their sporting dreams.
Fitness for all
“People in Haiyan love sports, Qieyang is one of us, but she is an elite performer,” herdsman Tsering said.
Tsering’s passion is horse racing, having taken up the sport aged 6.Now in his 60s, he is famous in Haiyan county, with his living room packed with trophies and awards. He sees parallels between his sport and Qieyang’s.
“Like race walking, you can’t miss a step. If you mess up the pace and rhythm in horse racing, you will be disqualified,” said Tsering.
Recalling one race last year, Tsering said that more than 3,000 people were in attendance, with shouts and cheers filling the air.
Basketball is another favorite of Tsering’s. Outside his house on the pasture, Tsering set up a basketball stand, which has become a popular recreation spot for children.
“Sports keep us in good health. No matter what we do, good health is the base,” he said.
Tsering’s life has been enriched by sports even into his retirement years. He enjoys traveling and meeting tourists who come to Haiyan to try horse riding and cycling.
Win for tourism
With an average altitude of over 3,000 meters, Haiyan county is situated near Qinghai Lake, China’s largest inland saltwater lake. Every year since 2002, the Tour of Qinghai Lake attracts professional cyclists and amateur enthusiasts and is now established as one of the world’s leading cycling events.
Inspired by the race, Losang Gyanco has combined cycling with tourism to form a successful business.
Born into a poor herding family in the 1970s, Losang went out to work from an early age, hoping to make a good living for his family. By the end of the 1990s, he enrolled in a provincial art school thanks to help from family and teachers.
Noticing that the Tour of Qinghai Lake had boosted tourist numbers, Losang opened a guesthouse by the banks of Qinghai Lake in 2005.
“Cycling enthusiasts and tourists are overwhelmed by the beauty of Qinghai Lake, and they come here to experience it in their own way. Cycling is an environmentally friendly pursuit, and is also healthy,” said Losang.
In 2012, Losang and his business partners set up a bike service base to offer tourists a better travel experience. A year later, Losang set up an organization which promotes the development of 70 local cycling clubs.
In his decades as an entrepreneur, he encountered many challenges but never gave up. “I felt the spirit of sports when I was riding around Qinghai Lake, and I still remember it. The total distance is about 360 kilometers. The key is to keep the faith,” he said.
Now Losang proudly sings one of his favorite folk songs, In a Faraway Fairyland. “It expresses the beauty and charm of my hometown,” he said. “And my dream is to let more people feel that.”