It was no surprise when, in May of this year, China’s four-time Olympic champion Wang Meng was given the responsibility of leading her country’s national Speed Skating squads to glory in the Beijing 2022 Games.
Wang Meng (CHN) at the Olympic Winter Games 2010©Getty Images
For China’s young Short Track and Speed Skaters, there is nobody more revered than the team’s new head coach. Wang is a true legend of Chinese sport.
She won an unprecedented three Short Track gold medals at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games, with further gold, silver and bronze medals at the Torino 2006 Games making her the most decorated Chinese winter Olympian of all time.
Wang Meng (CHN) at the Olympic Winter Games 2006©AFP
The versatile star – she won Olympic and world medals in every distance from 500m to the 3000m relay – retired in 2014 with an extraordinary 18 world titles to her name. After China’s Short Track Speed Skaters surprisingly failed to win any gold medals at the 2019 ISU World Short Track Speed Skating Championships in Sofia, there was only one person to turn to.
"My coaching staff and I will keep past glories and traditions in mind, and together with all relevant parties, we will work out the best method of preparation for both squads ahead of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics on home ice," Wang told China’s national news agency Xinhua after taking overall charge of both the Speed Skating and Short Track Speed Skating men’s and ladies’ squads.
“This is both an honour and a source of pressure,” she added.
Wang Meng (CHN) Min-Jee Kim (KOR)at the ISU World Short Track Speed Skating Team Championships 2004©AFP
But Wang is used to pressure. Born in China’s Heilongjiang province in 1985, she was the overall ISU World Junior Short Track Speed Skating Championship silver medallist in 2001. A year later, aged 17, she claimed her first senior ISU World Cup Short Track Speed Skating medal.
Wang Meng (CHN) at the ISU World Cup Short Track Speed Skating (GER) 2013©AFP
Once it started, success flowed. Wang’s first ISU World Cup Short Track Speed Skating medals arrived in the 3000m ladies relay during the early part of the 2002/03 season, but she soon started collecting 500m titles for fun.
At Torino 2006, Wang was a clear favourite for the 500m gold. The sprint queen did not disappoint, proving far too strong for Bulgaria’s one-time world record holder Evgenia Radanova.
An avid fan of basketball superstar Michael Jordan, Wang showed a similar appetite for winning as the big man himself. Between the Torino 2006 and Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games, Wang won a remarkable eight ISU World titles, including two overall crowns.
Wang Meng (CHN) at the ISU World Cup Short Track Spee Skating (USA) 2009©Getty Images
Such form brought considerable expectation and pressure ahead of the Vancouver Games, but Wang was more than equal to it.
The sprint provided the perfect stage for the defending champion to illustrate her dominance, as she beat Canada’s silver medallist Marianne St-Gelais by 0.659 seconds – a margin rarely seen in the sprints. Further gold medals followed in the 1000m, with Wang seeing off USA hope Katherine Reutter, and in the 3000m ladies relay as the Chinese quartet set a world record. With Zhou Yang grabbing the 1500m gold, China completed a clean sweep of the ladies’ events.
Arianna Fontana (ITA), Wang Meng (CHN) and Marianne St-Gelais (CAN) at the Olympic Winter Games 2010©AFP
Seeking a return to these glory days, the Chinese skating authorities sought out Wang. And the now 35-year-old, who also runs a successful business selling sportswear in China, has lost little time in making her mark.
First, Wang gathered 140 of China’s top skaters for a two-month training camp in order to prepare for the 2019/20 season. Then she set about ensuring they were being told the right things.
Wang Meng (CHN) during Practice 2014©AFP
In July, Wang appointed Kim Sun-tae – the man credited with building the foundations for South Korea’s impressive PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Short Track Speed Skating performance – as head coach of China’s Short Track Speed Skating programme. He has been joined by a handful of other foreign coaches, including Canada’s Nagano 1998 gold medallist Derrick Campbell.
François Drolet, Derrick Campbell, Eric Bedard and Marc Gagnon (CAN) at the Olympic Winter Games 1998©AFP
"Miss Wang and I are good friends, so I am very happy to come here to help more Chinese skaters get better,” Kim told Xinhua following his appointment in July.
Given that 33 out of the 62 medals China has won at the Winter Olympic Games have come in Short Track Speed Skating since the discipline was introduced at the Lake Placid 1980 Games, the pressure on Kim and Wang is significant. But Wang has shown throughout her career that she flourishes under the weight of such expectation.
Wang Meng (CHN) at the ISU World Cup Short Track Speed Skating 2013©Getty Images