A design picture of the National Speed Skating Oval for long-track speed skating in Beijing.[Photo/Xinhua]
As the Olympic spotlight shifts to Beijing following the Games in Pyeongchang, the Chinese capital has beefed up efforts to produce a sustainable Winter Olympics in 2022, with its legacy underlined as a key requirement for post-Games success.
Since the curtain fell on the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in the Republic of Korea last month, Beijing has taken center stage to prepare for its own version of the sporting gala against the backdrop of a national plan to build a burgeoning winter sports industry leading up to 2022 and beyond.
The country’s commitment to hosting an excellent Winter Olympics and Paralympics, and using the showcase event as a boost for sporting participation, was highlighted in the annual Government Work Report delivered by Premier Li Keqiang at the opening session of the 13th National People’s Congress on March 5.
“China will make thorough preparations for the Beijing Winter Olympics and Paralympics, and multiple channels will be used to raise the number of sporting venues and facilities available to the general public,” Premier Li said, when he presented the report.
Highlighted as a milestone in the country’s sporting and social development by the central government, the 2022 Winter Games will be held at three zones — downtown Beijing, Yanqing district, in the Northwest of the capital, and co-host city Zhangjiakou, Hebei province. The zones are expected to lead sustainable planning and operations, not just for sporting events but for urban development in general, according to deputies and political advisers attending the two sessions.
After heated discussions during the National Committee session of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, members of the sports panel of the top political advisory body agreed that preevent planning for infrastructure construction, venue management and staff training for the Games should take account of local demand and the environment.
“Even with four years to go until the 2022 Games, we have already started to take into consideration what will happen next after the Games,” said Li Yingchuan, a CPPCC member and vice-minister of the General Administration of Sport of China, the country’s central sporting governing body.
“Since winning the bid for the event, we have instilled the mindset of always considering what will be next and will carry that through the entire preparatory and delivery stages of the Games.”
Yang Yang, a retired Olympic champion speed skater and a member of the Beijing 2022 organizing committee, echoed Li Yingchuan’s points, saying that the sustainability featured in the plan for Beijing 2022 is its biggest selling point.
“The International Olympic Committee has put great emphasis on adapting future Games in the hosts’ regional development plans,” said Yang, whose eight-year term as a member of the International Olympic Committee ended last month.
“It is important for us to leave a legacy through practical planning and prudent operation so we can set examples for reform of the IOC.”
Carrying the Olympic flag from Pyeongchang, Beijing wasted no time meshing the gears for 2022, as the organizers announced that construction of all venues and infrastructure is well underway.
“All construction will be completed by the end of next year and will be ready for a series of test events in 2020,” said Zhang Jiandong, vice mayor of Beijing and executive vice-president of the Beijing 2022 organizing committee.
Zhang, who is also an NPC deputy, added that the capital will launch a global competition for the design of the 2022 mascots soon.
Although hosting the Olympic Games usually presents a heavy workload, the groundwork for Beijing 2022 will be effortless, thanks to the legacy of the 2008 Summer Olympics.
According to the organizing committee, there will be 26 competition and noncompetition venues in the three zones.
Of the 12 venues in Beijing’s downtown, where all the ice events will be staged, 11 were built for the 2008 Summer Games or earlier events.
Landmark 2008 venues, including the National Stadium, better known as the Bird’s Nest, the National Aquatics Center, aka the Water Cube, and the Wukesong Arena, will be repurposed to host events such as ice hockey and curling, in addition to acting as media and broadcasting centers in 2022.
The only new permanent venue in the Beijing downtown zone will be the National Speed Skating Oval for long-track speed skating, scheduled for completion next year. It will feature post-Olympics operations involving private stakeholders for public skating, hockey games and entertainment events.
“Beijing 2022 can set a new benchmark for sustainable Olympic Games — on the one hand benefiting from the legacy of Beijing 2008, while on the other developing your winter sports facilities in a sustainable way,” said IOC President Thomas Bach during Pyeongchang 2018.
As a new competitor and organizer in snow sports, the mainstay of the Winter Olympics, China will face stiff challenges in producing Olympic-standard facilities for snow events in Yanqing and Zhangjiakou by 2022, and ensuring that they are busy after the Games.
Though China has set a target to involve 300 million people in winter sports by 2022, the relatively small number of participants at present and a lack of international skiing competitions mean ensuring post-Olympics use of the facilities is a tougher mission than preparing them for the Games.
“Rather than regarding it as a challenge, we’d better embrace it as an opportunity to make up for the lack of winter sports facilities to meet the growing public demand for more diversified exercise activities,” said Yang, who was appointed chairwoman of the athletes’ commission of the Beijing 2022 organizing committee in November.
Chongli district in Zhangjiakou, where most of the snow events will be staged, has integrated preparatory work for the Games into a plan to develop the mountainous region — home to seven commercial ski resorts — into a skiing and winter tourism destination.
Of the 76 projects for 2022 in the region, 43 are under construction and a further 22 will get underway this year, while work will start on the remaining 11 venues next year, according to Wu Weidong, mayor of Zhangjiakou.
“To not only meet demand for the Games, but also the future industry, we still have to improve a lot in terms of high-level competition management, energy supplies, medical services and accommodation for snow sports,” said Wu, an NPC deputy.
Advisers also stressed that the complexity of venues for highly technical events, such as ski jumping and alpine skiing, requires planning for post-event operations, based on local conditions and international expertise.
Citing the ski jumping hills at the training center at the Pajulahti Sports Institute in Finland as an example, Shen Jin, a CPPCC member, said the facility for 2022 should cater for functions other than just the ski jumping event.
“It’s always difficult to use the high towers and long ramps after the competition. More options for future use in terms of sightseeing, exhibitions and leisure activities are necessary,” said Shen, deputy director of the planning and sustainability department of Beijing 2022.
The alpine skiing course, which is being built on Xiaohaituo Mountain in Yanqing, needs about 1,300 people for venue management, event services and medical support, but there are few suitable individuals in China, according to Wang Yanxia, deputy director of the sports department of the Beijing 2022 organizing committee.
To learn this sophisticated line of work, including producing densely packed artificial snow courses and providing alpine medical services, the committee sent 41 staff members to the IOC’s Secondment Program to gain hands-on experience by working alongside local hosts at multiple snow venues during Pyeongchang 2018.
“We can afford to hire experienced staff members from overseas for the 2022 Olympics, which will guarantee operations,” Wang said.
“But our goal is to take the opportunity to train as many local experts as possible. They will become the human legacy of our winter sports industry.”