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Monday, February 28, 2022, 11:28
China leaves a rich sporting legacy
By Zhang Yangfei
Monday, February 28, 2022, 11:28 By Zhang Yangfei

Volunteers and staff workers at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics pose on Feb 21 for a group photo at the National Stadium. The closing ceremony of the Games was held at the venue on Feb 20.  (HEI JIANJUN / FOR CHINA DAILY)

With the final medals awarded, children singing, dancing and holding snowflake-shaped lanterns, the Olympic flame was extinguished as Beijing 2022 drew to a close on Feb 20 after more than two weeks of competition.

Before announcing the official closure of the Winter Olympics, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach described the Games as “truly exceptional”, which was “only possible because of our gracious hosts, the Chinese people”.

The 24th Winter Olympics were a resounding success for the host nation, not only because China pocketed nine gold medals, its best-ever result, but also because the Games left a rich legacy in staging the sporting spectacle.

President Xi Jinping said in a speech welcoming international dignitaries at a banquet on Feb 5 that China has made “a new contribution to the global Olympic cause” through preparations for the Winter Games and the promotion of winter sports. Organizing the event had successfully introduced ice and snow activities to the public and motivated more than 300 million people to take up winter sports.

In addition to popularizing such sports, the Beijing Winter Olympics made a significant impression nationally and globally in the fields of sports, economy, society, culture, environment, and urban and regional development, due to seven years of preparation.

On Feb 11, organizers released a legacy report for the Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games. The report collated 44 typical cases covering the seven fields and focusing on a wide range of aspects, including use of venues, technological innovation, cultural communication, volunteer work and environmental protection.

As the first city to host the Summer and Winter Olympics, Beijing has been acclaimed in many quarters for showing the world a more open and confident image this time, starting with the opening ceremony on Feb 4.

In 2008, the opening ceremony for the Summer Olympics featured many Chinese elements, with head director Zhang Yimou showcasing to the world written characters, the Silk Road, four great ancient inventions, Chinese Opera, ink wash painting and tai chi.

This year, Zhang, head director for the opening and closing ceremonies, said the focus had shifted from “I” to “we”, with the team working on numerous “new explorations”. If the 2008 opening ceremony sought to introduce traditional Chinese culture to the world, that for Beijing 2022 aimed to convey the spirit and philosophy shared by humankind, which is to build a community with a shared future, Zhang said.

No celebrities or professional actors took part in the ceremony. Instead, the public, ranging from school children to seniors, featured in all performances.

Rather than using a large number of people, artificial intelligence was employed on a grand scale, along with 5G technology and machine vision. The latter encompasses industrial and non-industrial applications in which a combination of hardware and software provides operational guidance to devices in executing their functions based on capturing and processing images.

The ceremony quickly won widespread applause after being broadcast around the world, with many netizens saying Zhang understood “Chinese romanticism” so well. 

Chinese culture was in demand throughout the Games. Even before they began, the mascot Bing Dwen Dwen — a chubby panda cub wearing an ice shell — was a favorite choice for many, with related merchandise selling out almost overnight in licensed stores.

Shan Jixiang, director of the China Cultural Relics Academy, told a news conference on Feb 8 at the Beijing 2022 Media Center that the mascot’s popularity was the result of China’s increasingly improved soft power.

He described the mascot’s design as “very approachable and adorable”, adding that the hot sales reflected people’s love for Chinese culture. Bing Dwen Dwen is not merely a product, but a successful example of creating a cultural intellectual property, Shan added.

Chinese food also captured global attention, with many athletes posting footage on social networking platforms of themselves sharing meals in the Olympic Village.

Footage of Jenise Spiteri, a snowboarder competing for Malta, went viral after she was caught popping a red bean bun into her mouth while waiting for her score. John Aquilina, Malta’s ambassador to China, said this not only earned Spiteri the nickname “bun sister” among Chinese fans, but also gave people in Malta and elsewhere the chance to learn more about the snack.

On Feb 14, during the women’s freeski slopestyle qualifier, China’s Gu Ailing, who went on to win the silver medal in the event, was also seen munching on a local snack while awaiting her score. When a foreign journalist asked her what she was eating, Gu replied in Mandarin, “Jiu cai he zi.”

As there is no commonly known English translation, overseas reporters were left scrambling to clearly explain this snack. The Associated Press described it as “a fried dumpling filled with chives and vermicelli noodles”, while The Wall Street Journal said it was “a chive pastry”.

The highlight of the Olympics is arguably the breathtaking and intense competition, but it was not only the medal count that trended online. People showed unprecedented enthusiasm for winter sports, discussing the many heartwarming moments they saw while enjoying the Games.

Wang Meng, a four-time Olympic gold medalist in short-track speed skating, became an online sensation — not for her past achievements, but for her explicit and humorous commentaries, which many netizens said helped them learn more about the sport.

On Feb 16, at the end of the Alpine skiing men’s slalom event, Chinese athletes Zhang Yangming and Xu Mingfu fell and failed to finish. However, they told the media that although their performances were far from championship level, their goal was to make a breakthrough.

Figure skaters Jin Boyang from China and Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan also failed to make the podium, finishing ninth and fourth respectively in the men’s singles, but they won many admirers as they pushed themselves to the limit and performed their most difficult moves.

On Feb 20, during the figure skating gala exhibition, the pair performed a backbend simultaneously, then stood up, clapped hands and skated hand in hand. Footage of this quickly became a trending topic on social media. One netizen said, “Their friendship is the most beautiful thing in the Olympics.”

On Feb 19, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said via video link in his keynote speech at the 58th Munich Security Conference that on the Winter Olympics stage, “even the fiercest competitors can compete peacefully and encourage each other, because their aim is not to defeat each other, but to surpass themselves”.

“Such a spirit should also be the way to get along with each other as nations,” Wang added.

Even though Beijing 2022 has ended, China remains a huge global market for the ice and snow economy.

According to the National Bureau of Statistics, by January, more than 346 million people in China had taken up winter sports since 2015. Tu Xiaodong, an official from the General Administration of Sport, described this as “the most significant legacy and the first gold medal of the Beijing Winter Olympics”.

Over the past seven years, the nation has witnessed rapid improvements in winter sports infrastructure, equipment manufacturing, tourism and related education.

It has independently mastered the manufacturing of high-end snow wax trucks and bobsleighs, and has also built numerous ice rinks and indoor and outdoor ski resorts. Statistics show that by the beginning of last year, China boasted 654 standard ice rinks and 803 ski resorts, respective rises of 317 percent and 41 percent compared with 2015.

Winter sports in China used to be confined to the northeast, but now encompass the entire country. And the growing passion for winter sports has fueled a booming winter tourism industry.

The China Ice and Snow Tourism Development report for this year states that the number of winter leisure tourism trips during the 2020-21 snow season reached 254 million, compared with 170 million in 2016-17. The figure is expected to rise to 305 million in 2021-22, generating revenue of 323.3 billion yuan ($50.98 billion).

Bach, the IOC president, said in his speech at the closing ceremony for Beijing 2022 that with more than 300 million people now taking part in winter sports in China, “the positive legacy of these Olympic Games is ensured.” 

“We welcome China as a winter sport country,” he added.

zhangyangfei@chinadaily.com.cn


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