China's 'Birdie' Liu Jiayu: Facing her fears and ready to rock

A history-making silver medallist at PyeongChang 2018, Chinese snowboarder Liu Jiayu is facing down her fears at her her fourth straight Winter Olympic Games at home.

By Ken Browne
Picture by 2018 Getty Images

The fear, when you're about to drop into a snowboard halfpipe, is always there, says Chinese halfpipe shredder Liu Jiayu.

"If I am doing some new tricks, I say, ‘if I die I die. At least I die happy. If you are human, you have fear,’" she told the South China Morning Post, just a few short months out from her home Olympic Games at Beijing 2022.

Liu Jiayu's nickname is 'Birdie'. It's what her friends and family call her, and she's had a soaring career as a snowboard pioneer, inspiring an explosion in popularity of her sport and a brand new generation of Chinese boarders.

Despite only switching from martial arts to snowboarding at the relatively late of 11, it's been a wild ride at the summit of the sport for Liu.

World champion in 2009, she reached the heights of the Olympic podium at PyeongChang 2018, winning a silver medal behind breakout superstar Chloe Kim.

It wasn't just the first Olympic medal a Chinese athlete had ever won in snowboard halfpipe, it was the first in any Olympic snowboard discipline.

Liu Jiayu snowboard

Now four years later at her fourth consecutive Olympic Games Liu is facing down her fears and looking forward to to competing at home.

Yes, just because she's an experienced contender, a world champ and Olympic medallist, doesn't mean there's no fear anymore.

She's had multiple surgeries on her shoulder, and after a tough lockdown and lack of competition due to COVID, Liu is just letting it flow, and trying to 'enjoy life' as her Instagram bio says.

While her return to the pipe hasn't produced the results she might have wanted before Beijing - ninth at Copper Mountain in December, eight at Laax in January - she's proved many times that she can step up when it counts.

For Liu, there's a new motivation too: Helping her younger teammates in the tightly-knit Chinese camp.

"I feel that as an older member of the snowboard team, I have an obligation to pass on my learnings and lead the new players together," she told China's Xinhua news agency.

She isn't alone in that leadership role either as Cai Xuetong has been on a parallel journey since the Vancouver 2010 Games.

Liu and Cai have played a big role in the burgeoning snowboard scene in China, but they aren't forgetting about their own opportunity to do something special at a home Games either.

"At the same time, I hope that I can push my limits and strive to achieve even better results at my home Olympic venue," Liu continues to Xinhua.

A better result than last would be Olympic gold.

Liu Jiayu, Chloe Kim, and Arielle Gold on the podium at PyeongChang 2018. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Picture by 2018 Getty Images

Liu Jiayu Instagram: Sharing what her life is like

There aren't many Chinese athletes on Instagram, but after a life spent touring the world, Liu shares her global perspective and what her life is like on social media.

With over 5,000 followers on Insta and closing in on 200,000 on the Chinese social media platform Weibo, she has a presence that feeds into a growing demand to know more about star athletes' personal lives and experiences in China.

Both Liu and Cai also benefit from sponsorship deals with companies outside of China which support their careers, and back home have helped make snowboard one of the most popular winter activities in the country.

The experienced duo know that having the Olympics at home can take their sport to another level, as Cai said to the SCMP:

"I always want to show my best performance to the people of China. I want the people to see this sport, and to know more about snowboarding. And after the Olympics, I hope more people will join us.”

This legacy will be further facilitated when the Beijing 2022 snowboard venue Genting Snow Park in the Chongli District in Zhangjiakou, Hebei, becomes a resort open to the public after the Games.

Team China's preparations for the Beijing 2022 Olympics

Despite all the disruption over the past two years, Team China is fighting fit for Beijing 2022.

The snowboard halfpipe team including Liu and Cai have been training at the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Performance Institute in Shanghai, guided by UFC sport science and performance manager Felix Falkenberg from Germany.

And while lockdowns and COVID travel restrictions have nixed competitions at the Genting Snow Park in Zhangjiakou, the Chinese athletes have had the advantage of getting to know the venue.

When riders were finally able to get back on tour in December 2021 and January 2022, Liu's friends and rivals were full of questions.

"Everyone communicates with each other together," Liu tells XINHUA, "and some people are curious about the weather of the Beijing Winter Olympics, what it's like where they will stay, etc.

"When we chatted, we told everyone that all the facilities inside are very perfect, including all aspects of the living quarters. I think it is very good."

When asked what foreign athletes can look forward to, Liu says "I don't think the great things about China needs to be introduced, you just need to experience it for yourself!”

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