Descendants of some of the many Chinese who emigrated to North America in the 19th century have returned to China, playing hockey for the Beijing Olympics host team.
“My ancestors moved to North America 150 years ago, but China has always been in the tradition of the Yip family,” wrote Brandon Yip, who was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, and naturalized as a Chinese citizen. a message on Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter. “I also hope that me and our performance at the Olympics can really help with Chinese ice hockey.”
When it came time for China to assemble its first Olympic hockey team in a country with little tradition in the sport, it had to look to the Chinese diaspora in North America and beyond to cobble together a competitive team. .
Fifteen of the 25 national team athletes are naturalized citizens, including 11 of Chinese descent. Some are the children of more recent emigrants, but for some the links with China are quite distant.
Yip’s great-grandfather boarded a ship bound for Canada in 1881 and later became one of the thousands of Chinese laborers who built the railroads of the American West, according to a post on the WeChat account of Kunlun Red Star, the Chinese hockey club that Yip plays. for the Russia-based Professional Continental Hockey League.
Another player, Ty Schultz, was born in 1997 to a German father and a Chinese mother in Canada. His maternal grandparents were both accomplished Chinese athletes. Her grandmother Zheng Fengrong broke the world high jump record in 1957, according to Beijing News.
Schultz’s Chinese name is Zheng Enlai, with the first name derived from Zhou Enlai, the revolutionary leader and prime minister under Mao Zedong, who met Schultz’s grandmother after his athletic success. Schultz acquired Chinese citizenship in 2017 and two years later joined Beijing-based Kunlun Red Star.
Yip and Zheng are among several top naturalized athletes competing for China at these Games. Others include Eileen Gu, who won gold in the big air freeski event, and American-born figure skater Beverly Zhu.
Four players have no Chinese ancestry. They are Jeremy Smith, the goalkeeper, and three defenders: Ryan Sproul, Denis Osipov and Jake Chelios. Chelios is the son of Hockey Hall of Famer Chris Chelios.
Like Yip and Zheng, all four play for Kunlun in the KHL, which is enough to qualify them for the national team.
The NHL’s decision to pull its players from the Olympics due to concerns over the pandemic has certainly benefited the Chinese team, who have avoided the prospect of facing even tougher opponents.
“If it was these kids against the NHL stars, it would be a total massacre,” said Mark Dreyer, founder of China Sports Insider and author of a new book, “Sporting Superpower: An Insider’s View.” on China’s quest to be the best. “It’s hard to overstate that.”
In fact, the United States convincingly beat the team, 8-0, in their opener on Thursday night.
Two formidable opponents remain: Germany, who won the silver medal in 2018, on Saturday, and Canada, the eternal power, on Sunday.
Claire Crazy contributed to the research.