Snowboarding baby steals hearts and headlines in China

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CHONGLI, China: Only 11 months old, Wang Yuji can not even walk, but she is already snowboarding and taking the hill – and the internet – by storm.
The smallest of all riders at a resort near Beijing, which will host the 2022 Winter Olympics in just a few months, Yuji is cut into small boots by his parents and padded out with layers of protective clothing.
When her parents let go, she sweeps gently down the piste on her little board, giggling and flapping her arms.
Unlike many clumsy beginners who struggle to stay upright, her puzzled parents say that snowboarding somehow came naturally to their baby.
“We put her in her shoes and realized she could make herself stand up … then we led her to a gentle slope and watched her slide down, squatting on the board herself,” Yuji’s mother Fan Xueyin says to AFP.
Yuji’s first attempt at snowboarding was just two weeks ago during a family vacation.
Every morning since then, she has joined winter sports fans at Thaiwoo Ski Resort in Chongli, Zhangjiakou – one of the host cities for the Winter Olympics.
“If she had been scared or resisted, of course we would not have made her do the sport,” adds Fan.
But once on the board “she would pat herself on the legs and start giggling, so we could say that she is not afraid at all and thrives”.
Because Yuji is still too small to control her direction or speed, a nearby parent is always ready to snatch her if she faces an obstacle.
“You’re doing well!” they shout at her and jog with their child.
Ahead of the Beijing Games, the government has been keen to promote winter sports, with huge constructions of snow resorts leading to millions of new devotees.
Yuji’s dad Wang Shu is a new fan of the sport, has recently begun to learn.
And after seeing his daughter’s talent, he says he has been inspired to train as a professional snowboard coach, so he can teach her when she’s older.
When she’s not on the board, Yuji crawls around in the snow and learns to take her first tentative steps independently.
The little prodigy, with the nickname Beibei (“baby”), has gotten lots of internet fans and videos of her have gotten tens of millions of views on Chinese social media.
At the resort, she is immediately recognized by people who stop by to photograph her.
“A lot of people leave messages like ‘She’s so talented and maybe she can compete in the Winter Olympics in the future,'” Fan says, acknowledging that it made her “really think about it.”
“It would be great for her to give glory to our country – but she’s still too young,” she laughs. “We will respect her own choices in the future.”

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