When Murray Cluff is desperate to make a point to Chinese Olympic Games freestyle skier Ning Qin, he reaches for the camera and laptop, both vital learning aids when the language barrier gets in the way.
Canadian coach Cluff speaks little Chinese, while 22-year-old Ning has only a rudimentary grasp of English, so technology has come to the rescue for China’s first moguls medal hopeful.
“It’s one of the biggest challenges that I have ever had as a coach. We use technology. I film her doing stuff. Then I point at it and say ‘mei you’ [don’t in Chinese],” Cluff said.
Back in 1980, Cluff won the freestyle world title and then coached compatriot Jennifer Heil to gold at the 2006 Turin Olympics and silver in Vancouver four years later.
“When I first started working with them [the Chinese] in July 2012, they said that they wanted to win in Sochi. I explained to them that the best I can do is to get her Ning to qualify for Sochi. You need seven to 12 years to be able to win,” Cluff said.
Ning and Cluff have been dubbed “Mini Team Red,” a reference to China’s women’s aerials team known as “Team Red” that includes Li Nina, who took silver in Turin and Vancouver.
Ning’s main target is not Sochi, but gold at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Cluff has a simple ambition for his pupil in Russia — just to get into the last round of qualification.
“It will be tough, but it’s achievable. If we can get 18th or 19th I’ll be extremely happy,” Cluff said of Ning, who took up aerials skiing in 2000 when she was nine, before switching to moguls in 2005.
“In 2006, there was so much expectation to win and there was intense pressure. Now there is the satisfaction that someone who was finishing 40th has progressed and qualified for the Olympics. For me that was exciting,” Cluff said.