At age twenty Tingyu Gao (CHN) claimed bronze in the 500m at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games and became the first Chinese man to win an Olympic medal in Speed Skating. Although he still has a long career ahead of him, the youngster aims to be at the top of his game for the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games and takes a philosophical approach: "Success is a journey, not a destination."
Tingyu Gao (CHN) at the Winter Olympic Games 2018©AFP
Born in Yi Chun in the north of China, close to Harbin, Gao learned how to skate at an outdoor rink in the cold north Chinese winters.
"I started Speed Skating when I was about nine or ten years old. When I was a little kid, I came home late one day. My mother came to my school to look for me only to find out I was skating. We had a natural outdoor rink in Yi Chun. Later I also went to the Heilongjiang Indoor Rink in Harbin, which is my home base at the moment. I also study sport at the Harbin Sport University."
Tingyu Gao (CHN)
Gao comes from a modest family and his parents run a restaurant in Yi Chun: "My parents didn’t have a sporting background, but they always supported me. As a kid you need new skates almost every year because your feet grow quickly. The shoes and blades are very expensive, but my parents have always provided me with good material."
Although Speed Skating was the lust of his life, Gao was not a naturally gifted super talent as a kid.
Tingyu Gao (CHN) at the ISU World Sprint Speed Skating Championshps 2018©International Skating Union (ISU)
"I did not win much when I was young. Other kids were often better, but Speed Skating was in my heart and in my blood. I was willing to sacrifice everything to go faster, but I had my ups and downs.
"My mother always gave me the confidence I needed. She sometimes used reverse psychology to motivate me. Whenever I had a difficult time or doubted whether I should continue Speed Skating, she would say: 'Maybe you should quit.' And then I would realize how much I loved Speed Skating, and I knew I had to go for it and just work harder."
Explosive on and off the ice
Joji Kato (JPN) Tingyu Gao (CHN) at the Winter Olympic Games 2018©Getty Images
In his journey from schoolkid on skates to Olympic medal winner, Gao's coach Guangbin Liu was a staunch companion.
"He has coached me since I was a little kid and he has always stood by my side. Whether I was skating good or bad, my coach never failed to give me the support I needed."
The close relationship with Guangbin Liu does not mean that coach and pupil never fall out at each other. Gao says: "I'm a sprinter. We are explosive on the ice, but we can be short-tempered off the ice too. When a race doesn't work out the way I wanted to, my coach often has to abide my frustrations."
Tingyu Gao (CHN) at the ISU World Cup Speed Skating (NED) 2016©International Skating Union (ISU)
The young sprinter finished ninth in the 500m at the ISU World Single Distances Speed Skating Championships in Inzell, and he had to vent his frustration to his coach: "Somehow I did not manage to execute my race well and I needed to get rid of my discontent."
Whereas the 2019 World Single Distances Championships were slightly frustrating, the 500m bronze at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games were the apogee of Gao's career up to this day.
"After the competition and the celebrations at the medal plaza I went out to party with friends and we got drunk, which is something you normally don't do as an athlete of course. Still the best memories from my Speed Skating career are not of winning prizes, but of the preparations, the training and the hard work I put in every day. In the end that's what really counts."
With the 2022 Games on home soil in Beijing, Gao has set off on a new Olympic journey. He says: "Of course that's the big goal for me now, but you never know what the future holds in store, so you have to strive for the best in the present."