CHONGLI, China: At just 11 months old, Wang Yuji can’t even walk, but she is already snowboarding and taking the slopes — and the internet — by storm.
The smallest of all the riders at a resort near Beijing, which is set to host the 2022 Winter Olympics in just a few months, Yuji is clipped into tiny boots by her parents and padded out with layers of protective clothing.
Once her parents let go, she swoops smoothly down the piste on her small board, giggling and flapping her arms.
Unlike many clumsy beginners who struggle to stay upright, her bemused parents say snowboarding somehow came naturally to their baby.
“We put her in the shoes and realized she could bring herself to stand… then we brought her to a gentle slope and watched her slide down, squatting on the board by herself,” Yuji’s mother Fan Xueyin tells AFP.
Yuji’s first attempt at snowboarding was only two weeks ago during a family holiday.
Each morning since then she has joined winter sports fans at the Thaiwoo Ski Resort in Chongli, Zhangjiakou — one of the hosting cities for the Winter Olympics.
“If she had been afraid or resisted, of course we wouldn’t have made her do the sport,” Fan adds.
But once on the board, “she would pat her legs and start giggling, so we could tell that she’s not afraid at all and is enjoying herself”.
As Yuji is still too small to control her direction or speed, a nearby parent is always ready to snatch her if she veers towards an obstacle.
“You’re doing great!” they call at her, jogging alongside their child.
Ahead of the Beijing Games, the government has been keen to promote winter sports, with huge construction of snow resorts leading to millions of fresh devotees.
Yuji’s father Wang Shu is a new fan of the sport, having recently started to learn.
And after seeing his daughter’s talent, he says he has been inspired to train as a professional snowboarding coach, so that he can teach her when she’s older.
When not on the board, Yuji crawls about in the snow and is learning to take her first tentative steps independently.
The little prodigy, nicknamed Beibei (“baby”), has earned reams of internet fans and videos of her have garnered tens of millions of views on Chinese social media.
At the resort, she is immediately recognised by people who stop to take photos with her.
“A lot of people are leaving messages like ‘She’s so talented and maybe can compete in the Winter Olympics in the future’,” Fan says, admitting it made her “really think about it”.
“It would be great for her to bring glory to our country — but she is still too young,” she chuckles. “We’ll respect her own choices in the future.”