Sports

Dustin Woods: US coach inspiring China's Olympic speed skaters

Team set new Olympic record in semifinals race

(CNN) - If you dream of going to the Olympics, you'll quickly learn there's no comfort zone.

That was certainly the case for Dustin Woods and his wife Allyse in 2011 when faced with the opportunity to pack their bags and train Chinese athletes in Beijing.

They never could have imagined all that China would have in store for them.

The fast track to short track

Even so as a self-professed homebody with a young family and a fresh career at Ignition Athletic Performance Group, it wasn't a decision that came easy for him.

What would it look like to take that leap of faith?

Fortunately for China, Woods did not have much time to question the alternative.

One resume, two interviews and three weeks later, the Ohio native found himself in Beijing as the head strength and conditioning coach of Team China's short track speed skaters.

Three years of intense training later, they were bound for the games in Sochi.

The 2014 Winter Olympics were very fruitful for Woods and Team China -- two gold medals, three silver and one bronze between the men and women's teams.

While China didn't take home the most gold medals, they did return with the most medals in their sport.

Little did Woods know that his China adventure was only just beginning, even if regular life in Ohio resumed after he and his wife came home to the US.

He resumed working for Ignition APG as a trainer for elite athletes and the couple welcomed their daughter Zoe in the summer.

All signs pointed to growing their family stateside, but the couple quickly felt the calling to return to Beijing.

"We did not plan on coming back for the second round," Woods said, "but obviously things worked out."

"I sent a coach [to China] from Ignition to the Chinese team for a year trying to get him to stay on, but the head coach continued to ask us to come back during that time.

"We had some really deep connections with a lot of the athletes here. That was essentially the reason we came back. We just felt led to come back again, like we did the first time."

'I feel like a proud father'

So the Woods family returned to Beijing and Team China quickly got back to work.

They trained six days a week, sometimes for 12 hours a day, determined to achieve even more than they had in Sochi.

That training has already begun to pay off.

Now in Pyeongchang, China wasted no time setting a new Olympic record in the semifinals for the fastest time in the women's 3000-meter short track speed skating relay.

"That was a great team win," Woods said, "and that's what we're all about -- winning as a team.

"It was a very proud moment because you know they've worked so hard. I'm usually calm, cool and collected in the stands. Here at the games I'm just not myself; I'm jumping around and pumping my fist."

Purpose-driven coach

Woods' coaching philosophy is based on supporting and encouraging the athletes he works with -- a case of carrot rather than stick -- and it's an approach that's derived from his religious faith.

"Coming to the athletes in a different manner rather than encourage them by fear," Woods explained.

"That value of teaching, learning and educating the athletes in multiple different ways, not just physically, but mentally and spiritually, is different in the Chinese culture.

"It's been very valuable for me to bring the way that I coach and the way I've learned to treat people to a place where that's not typical, and that's really benefited our athletes."

Working closely with 24 athletes means solid bonds are formed and it does not take long for a second family to form.

Zoe has picked up Chinese in addition to learning English, and greatly enjoys spending time with the team.

The shared times make the goodbyes far more difficult, though.

"I remember leaving the first time and just crying," Woods joked, "this time I remembered to bring sunglasses.

"I know this time after we leave that we will see these athletes again, but it is very bittersweet."

While he's not sure what life after the 2018 Olympics will hold, the Woods family have full faith that any leap of faith will keep them on solid ground.


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