“I’ve witnessed the development of China’s snow sports for 70 years and I know we are a beginner. My hope is that the Olympics can popularize the Winter Games among the Chinese people.” –Shan Zhaojian

Meet Shan Zhaojian, the Chinese ski legend who is known as the “Father of Skiing” in his homeland. WSAU reports the 83-year-old has been a prominent icon in the country’s campaign to encourage an interest in winter sports as it gears up to host the Winter Olympics

Zhaojian hails from the mountainous and wintry northeastern Jilin province. He joined a professional skiing training team in 1954 at 16 and became China’s first national skiing champion in 1957.

“At that time, we had no such things as ski outfits and had no idea that there were such a thing as professional skiing clothes.”

He even made his own wooden skis.  He retired at age 24 due injuries but has continued to play a prominent role in the sport, including acting as secretary-general of the Chinese Ski Association.

He has also become a ski historian, with a focus on China’s Altay region, where he says cave paintings that date back thousands of years prove skiing started in China rather than Russia.

Shan said that his country had made big strides in becoming globally competitive in skiing since it sent its first team to the Winter Games in 1980 but that his biggest wish for the upcoming Games isn’t gold medals but to see the competition spur more ordinary people try winter sports.