Sustainability, legacy in focus as Beijing and Zhangjiakou get ready for the 2022 Winter Olympics
A computer-generated image of the National Sliding Center, which is being built in Beijing’s Yanqing district. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)
Beijing’s preparations for the 2022 Winter Olympics began to really take shape last year as organizers combined the legacy of the 2008 Summer Games and innovative regeneration projects to impressive effect.
The former Shougang steel mill in west Beijing was perhaps the most striking example of the progress made, with the site morphing into both a competition venue and the headquarters of the 2022 organizing committee.
Abandoned furnaces evoke memories of the site’s industrial past, but now it has a very modern feel, with warehouses converted into offices to house 400 organizing committee staff.
To the south of the office area, a multipurpose training center for hockey, skating and curling has been built, while nearby the snowboarding big-air slope will soon rise against a stunning backdrop of three disused cooling towers.
The dramatic transformation of the industrial complex has underlined how the capital and its co-host, Zhangjiakou in Hebei province, are readying for the 2022 Winter Olympics with a strong focus on sustainability and legacy.
“The concept of repurposing existing facilities for the 2022 Olympics, which helped us win the bid in 2015, started to take shape last year and has given us an advantage to be more efficient preparing for the Games,” Zhang Jiandong, a vice-mayor of Beijing and executive vice-president of the Beijing 2022 organizing committee, said in December.
After picking up the baton from the 2018 Pyeongchang Games in South Korea, Beijing has made big strides in venue construction, staff training, marketing and the promotion of winter sports, Zhang added.
The International Olympic Committee concurs.
“At this stage, you’ve done more than that could be expected,” IOC Vice-President Juan Antonio Samaranch said during a visit to Beijing last September.
“We are very confident that the Beijing 2022 Games can mark a new era of Winter Olympics.”
The National Aquatics Center and the National Indoor Stadium, both built for the 2008 Summer Olympics, are currently being converted into venues for curling and men’s hockey respectively.
Renovation at the aquatics center, aka the Water Cube, began in December, with the pool filled with steel structures, covered in concrete and then topped with sheets of ice to create the curling lanes.
The National Indoor Stadium is upgrading its temperature-control system and lighting facilities as it gets ready to host hockey. The remodeling of both venues is expected to be finished by the end of this year, according to the venues’ owners.
Beijing 2022 will use 26 competition and non-competition venues located in three clusters — the city’s downtown, its northwestern Yanqing district (where both the alpine skiing and sliding centers will be built) and co-host Zhangjiakou, with the zones to be connected by a high-speed railway.
Of the 13 downtown venues, eight are existing 2008 facilities, which also include the Wukesong Arena for women’s hockey and the Capital Gymnasium for figure skating.
According to local construction regulatory bodies, all competition-related venues in the three zones will be ready by June 2020. The transformation of existing facilities for ceremonies and media operations will be completed in 2021.
“As a key milestone leading up to 2022, venue readiness took a major step forward in 2018 with construction and renovation kicked off on all fronts. We are well ahead of time to be ready for a series of testing events starting from early 2020,” said Wang Gang, director of the Beijing Major Projects Construction Headquarters Office.
The reuse of existing Olympic facilities has implemented the IOC’s ‘Agenda 2020’ proposals, which aim to reduce cost of future Games through more sustainable planning.
“It is very encouraging to see how Beijing 2022 is already tapping into its potential to maximize the use of existing venues and is embracing Agenda 2020,” IOC President Thomas Bach said during a visit to Beijing last June.
Meanwhile, Beijing has wasted no time in drafting legacy plans to ensure the Games benefit the nation beyond 2022.
In November, the organizing committee established a legacy coordination commission made up of representatives from 59 ministerial and local government departments and research institutes.
At some new permanent venues under construction, such as the National Speed Skating Oval in downtown Beijing, functions for future commercial operation and public use have been incorporated in the predesign stage.
The Oval, which will host long-track speed skating, boasts a flexible design which will allow it to host other ice-based sports.
It will be open to the public for fitness and recreational purposes, and will also be used for exhibition and entertainment functions, according to the venue’s operation team.
“It’s very encouraging to see the coexistence of speed skating and other ice sports and public use in the Oval’s post-Games utilization plan,” Tron Espeli, an International Skating Union vice-president, said after visiting the site last year.
In co-host city Zhangjiakou, organizers and property owners see 2022 as a catalyst for the development of the tourism and skiing industries around its mountainous Chongli district.
Already a burgeoning skiing destination, Chongli will host six snow sports including cross-country skiing, biathlon and snowboarding at eight venues located around the newly built Prince Ski Town and the existing Genting Resort.
“It’s critical for the Games to leave a positive impact on the local economy, so we are taking all post-Games development plans into consideration as early as possible,” said Li Hong, a vice-mayor of Zhangjiakou.
The city plans to have 30 ski resorts by 2025, contributing to the national plan of involving 300 million people in ice and snow sports by 2022.
The new high-speed rail linking downtown Beijing with Zhangjiakou via Yanqing, which will be completed by the end of this year, will shorten travel time between the two zones from three hours to 50 minutes to further boost business at the resorts.
As a winter sports rookie, China is facing a tough task to make up for its lack of know-how in event organization.
The organizing committee has, therefore, pulled out all the stops to train staff and recruit and learn from international experts.
During the Pyeongchang Games, Beijing sent 254 organizers to observe and work side-by-side with their South Korean counterparts.
A skiing volunteer team was assembled in October, initially comprised of 154 people selected from a pool of over 3,000 medium-level skiers.
According to Tong Lixin, director of the organizing committee’s sports department, event managers have been appointed for all 15 sports disciplines at the 2022 Games. They are now being trained by staff from various sports federations and will continue to be tested at forthcoming World Cup series events.
“All the facilities and personnel for the 2022 Winter Olympics will be 80 percent ready by the end of 2019,” Tong said.
HONG KONG NEWS