-- Beijing will bask in the light of the glowing Olympic flame for a second time when the 2022 Winter Olympics officially opens on Friday in the Bird's Nest Stadium.
-- From the early bidding stage right through nearly seven years of preparations, President Xi Jinping has played an instrumental leadership role as he helps shape what many believe will be a historic Games.
-- International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach lauded China's efficiency, determination and dynamism, saying that he was impressed by the outstanding venues, thorough COVID-19 countermeasures and the concept of sustainability.
by Sportswriter Gao Peng
BEIJING, Jan. 31 (Xinhua) -- Beijing will bask in the light of the glowing Olympic flame for a second time when the 2022 Winter Olympics officially opens on Friday in the Bird's Nest Stadium - an iconic 2008 Summer Games venue.
Having already successfully hosted the Summer Olympics 14 years ago, Beijing is the first city ever to stage both summer and winter editions of the global sporting spectacle.
President Xi Jinping masterminded the grand plan, defined the strategic direction, and inspected construction sites. From the early bidding stage right through nearly seven years of preparations, President Xi has played an instrumental leadership role as he helps shape what many believe will be a historic Games.
OVERCOMING PANDEMIC CHALLENGES
The 6th Meeting of the IOC Coordination Commission for the XXIV Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 is held in Beijing, capital of China, Nov. 2, 2021. (Xinhua/Ju Huanzong)
Over the past several decades, many Olympics have faced a race against the clock to complete the construction of all competition venues - but Beijing 2022 was ahead of schedule on that front. Most of the Beijing 2022 venues and facilities were ready for action months before the opening ceremony.
Earlier this month, President Xi made his fifth inspection tour of the venues, underscoring his care for the Games and showing resolve from the highest level to ensure the event meets organizers' pledge of being "simple, safe and splendid."
However, it was not all plain sailing. In early 2020, the sudden outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic dealt a heavy blow to world sports and disrupted the Games preparations.
Much of the final planning for the Games had to take place at a distance, with key meetings between the Beijing 2022 Organizing Committee (BOCOG) and International Olympic Committee (IOC) officials in Switzerland primarily held remotely, and briefings and venue tours for the international press delivered virtually.
What's more, the pandemic resulted in the postponement or cancelation of a number of test events. There were even concerns that the 2022 Games could be postponed, as the 2020 Tokyo Olympics were.
Nevertheless, Xi inspected Games facilities in Beijing's Yanqing district and co-host city Zhangjiakou in January last year, calling for the advancement of preparation work against such difficulties and to do so "with greater perfection."
Echoing guidance from the top leader, Beijing 2022 organizers readjusted all aspects of their work, ranging from venue operations to international communication and Games' services, to proceed cautiously with COVID-19 countermeasures at the core of their efforts.
As much of the world is still grappling with COVID-19, a range of strict protocols, including a "closed-loop" system of hotels and venues, is in place to ensure the safety of competitors, international media dignitaries, and spectators.
IOC president Thomas Bach lauded China's efficiency, determination and dynamism, saying that he was impressed by the outstanding venues, thorough COVID-19 countermeasures and the concept of sustainability.
A BENCHMARK FOR SUSTAINABLE GAMES
Photo taken on Sept. 17, 2021 shows the unveiling ceremony of the official motto for Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games "Together for a Shared Future" in Beijing, capital of China. (Xinhua/Ju Huanzong)
Under the Olympic Agenda 2020, the IOC wants host cities to reduce costs, use already-built facilities, and avoid so-called white elephant buildings that see no use after the Games. In an effort to address the concern, Xi stressed that the 2022 Games should be put on with a "green, inclusive, open, and clean" approach.
Ahead of the Chinese Lunar New Year in 2017, Xi braved freezing temperatures to visit the construction sites in co-host city Zhangjiakou. During that trip, Xi noted that construction projects should not be extravagant and that their follow-up uses should be considered.
Guided by Xi's vision, Beijing 2022 organizers have made efforts to achieve sustainability on three fronts: positive environmental impact, a new development for the region and a better life for the people.
Of the 12 competition venues included in the bid, six were already in existence. A number of venues built for the 2008 Olympics are being re-used - notably the Bird's Nest Stadium and the 'Water Cube' National Aquatics Center to minimize costs.
And this spectacular mix of new and existing venues is spread across three different competition zones. Yanqing, home to the famous Badaling and Juyongguan stretches of the Great Wall and host to the Alpine skiing and sliding events will operate as a year-round tourism destination after the Games, while the Zhangjiakou competition zone will also turn into a holiday resort.
One of the venues for the 2022 Games, Shougang Park, was previously an iron and steel mill that has been transformed into one of the best sustainable landscape examples in the world with a climate-positive target.
The 2022 Winter Olympics is also the first Games in history to exclusively power all venues with clean energy from renewable sources and use carbon dioxide in ice-making procedures.
The rising popularity of winter sports has also helped to improve the livelihoods of tens of thousands of Chinese people. Chongli was once one of the poorest districts in China, with 16.8 percent of its more than 100,000 residents living below the national poverty line in 2015.
But this mountainous town has been transformed into a skier's paradise thanks to the Winter Olympics. Now one in five people from Chongli is employed in ski resorts or businesses related to the winter sports and tourism boom.
"Beijing 2022 can set a new benchmark for a sustainable Olympic Games, on one hand benefiting from the legacy of the Beijing 2008 and on the other developing a new winter sports destination in a sustainable way," said Bach.
NEW ERA FOR GLOBAL WINTER SPORTS
Students from primary section of No.1 Middle School of Urumqi County play ice hockey in Urumqi County, northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Jan. 12, 2022. (Xinhua/Wang Fei)
Although competitive in a smattering of events, notably short-track speed skating and figure skating, China has never been a major winter sports player. Winter sports were traditionally confined within the country's cold northeastern regions and considered an unaffordable pastime in the south.
President Xi, who believes sport is an important means for improving people's health and meeting people's aspirations for a better life, envisaged early in the bidding stage that the Winter Olympics could help introduce winter sports to 300 million Chinese people.
To make skiing more accessible to the public, hundreds of new facilities have been built over the past several years. As of 2020, China had 803 ski resorts, up from 568 in 2015. There are also 654 ice rinks across the country, an increase of more than 310 percent from 2015.
Thanks to high-tech facilities such as artificial ice rinks that can be detached and moved, artificial intelligence skiing simulators and the dry-land roller ski training methods, winter sports have reached the country's southern provinces and have been added to the curriculums of over 2,000 schools.
China's unremitting efforts to promote winter sports have made Xi's Olympic aspirations a reality.
Today, over 346 million of its people have participated in winter sports training, amateur or professional competitions, or winter sport leisure activities, according to official statistics. That equates to about one in four of China's population.
Bach has hailed the new era for global winter sports heralded by Beijing 2022. "This is an unprecedented, great achievement and will become an important legacy of Beijing 2022 for the Chinese people and for the Olympic Movement," he said.
TOGETHER FOR A SHARED FUTURE
An ice maker sprays water over a sub-glacial Olympic rings on the track at the Yanqing National Sliding Center ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics in the Yanqing district of Beijing, China, Jan. 28, 2022. (Xinhua/Jiang Wenyao)
Since ancient times, the Chinese nation has upheld the belief that "all under heaven are of one family". In 2013, Xi, who has always drawn the essence of traditional Chinese culture and applied them to the governance of the state, put forth building a community with a shared future for mankind during his speech at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations.
Xi's vision resonates with the IOC, which has always advocated unity in diversity as an integral component of the Olympic Movement and amended the Olympic Motto last year with the inclusion of "Together" after "Faster, Higher, Stronger."
With around 2,900 athletes representing some 90 National or regional Olympic Committees gathering in the Chinese capital, the 2022 Games is certainly another chance to show sport can lead the way in reuniting the world with the Olympic spirit.
The Beijing 2022 slogan, which reads "Together for a shared future," reflects President Xi's viewpoint towards the standout event.
Instead of riding separately in some 190 small boats, countries around the world should stay together in one giant ship and sail toward a brighter future, and this is why China came up with "Together for a Shared Future" as the official motto for Beijing 2022, said President Xi when meeting with Bach last week.
These sentiments were echoed by the IOC chief, who is committed to preserving the values and principles of respect for solidarity and political neutrality.
"With the coronavirus pandemic still a reality for all of us and at a time when the world feels more divided than ever, Beijing 2022 will be an important moment to bring the world together in the spirit of peace, friendship and solidarity," said Bach.
(Video reporters: Hong Yan, Wu Yao, Guo Peiran, Zhao Xu, Darihan, Qu Yan, Jiang Zhaochen, Liu Hai, Xia Liang, Shui Jinchen, Ma Xiaodong, Wang Junlu, Yang Fan, Xie Han, Guo Chen, Hao Yalin, Hu Jingchen, Huo Siying; Video editors: Ma Ruxuan, Yin Le)