Chinese athletes perform during the 2021 Asian Open Figure Skating Trophy in Beijing on October 15 (VCG)
The Olympic flame was ignited on October 18, in Ancient Olympia, Greece, marking a milestone for the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022. Present at the flame lighting ceremony was Yu Zaiqing, a special representative of Beijing 2022, who also witnessed years ago such a ceremony for the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics. Hosting the Winter Olympics makes Beijing the first ever city to host both the Summer and Winter Games, he said at this ceremony. "There may be more cities like this in the future, but Beijing being the first bears extraordinary significance," he told Xinhua News Agency.
The flame was then handed over by the Hellenic Olympic Committee to the Beijing Organizing Committee for the 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (BOCOG) on October 19 at the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens. The Beijing 2022 representatives boarded a flight to take the flame back to Beijing on the same day.
"The traditional ceremony is inherited from ancient times. It represents light, justice, peace and unity, and is the noble symbol of the Olympic spirit," said Yu, who is also BOCOG's vice president.
A series of activities, including torch relays, began after the Olympic flame arrived in China two days later. "Its arrival signifies that the preparations for the Winter Olympics have entered the final sprint," Yu said.
The Beijing 2022 Games will kick off on February 4, 2022. The date falls on the fourth day of the first lunar month, during China's Spring Festival holiday, the most important traditional festival for the Chinese people. The Games will last until February 20. The Paralympic Games will run from March 4 to 13, 2022.
During the upcoming Games, 2,892 athletes from all over the world will compete in 109 medal events over 15 disciplines in seven sports. Seven new events have been added to the Olympic program since the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, including women's monobob, short track speed skating mixed team relay, and ski jumping mixed team.
"The other goal is to realize gender equality. This Winter Olympics will see the most female athletes in history," said Tong Lixin, head of the BOCOG's sports department. According to Tong, a total of 1,314 female athletes will attend the Beijing 2022 Games, constituting 45.2 percent of the total and a record high in Winter Olympic history.
From October 5 until the end of December, 10 international competitions, three training weeks and two domestic trials will be organized in order to test all elements of the Games across the three competition zones, namely downtown Beijing, Yanqing District in Beijing's northern suburbs, and Zhangjiakou, a city in Hebei Province that neighbors Beijing. All venues for ice sports competitions are located in downtown Beijing.
For example, from October 13 to 24, two trial events occurred at the 53-year-old Capital Gymnasium, the venue of figure skating and short track speed skating for Beijing 2022. They are the 2021 Asian Open Figure Skating Trophy, which ended on October 16, and the Beijing leg of the International Skating Union (ISU) World Cup Short Track Speed Skating event that ran from October 21 to 24.
ISU Vice President Alexander Lakernik spoke highly of the organization of the figure skating competition. "In general, I think the best thing at the moment is the [readiness of] the arena. I've been to this venue many times. Now it looks new. It was a good idea not to start building everything from scratch but just reuse this building. It looks much better than before," he told media at the Capital Gymnasium.
"China has a big [and] good organizing committee. There are many volunteers, many staff. Everybody knows what to do. So, in general, the impression is good," Lakernik said.
Yuma Kagiyama, an 18-year-old Japanese figure skater, won the men's singles at the Asian Open Figure Skating Trophy on October 15. "This was the first time I completed all my jumps in competition this season. It's great," Kagiyama said after the competition. "I feel really good about the ice here, which is conducive to fast and smooth skating."
Nicole Schott from Germany, who finished sixth in the women's singles, said, "The stadium is very big. I love it."
Jenni Saarinen from Finland, who finished fifth in the women's singles, agreed with the two athletes. "Everything here makes me excited. I hope I can compete here next year," she said.
To reduce the adverse impact on the environment, BOCOG prioritizes environmental protection throughout the whole process of venue planning, construction, operation and post-Games utilization, according to Liu Xinping, Director of the Sustainable Development Division of the Beijing 2022 General Planning Department.
Beijing has also made use of innovative technologies for making ice in the venues. Ice venues at previous Olympic Winter Games used freon refrigerants, whereas the four ice venues in Beijing are using new refrigerants made from carbon dioxide. Using the most eco-friendly ingredients, the new refrigerants can reduce carbon emissions to nearly zero, reducing overall impact on climate.
By the end of 2020, all the venues for the Beijing Winter Olympics had access to 100 percent green electricity, generated through wind power and photovoltaic installations. This is the first time in Olympic history an event has been 100 percent powered by green electricity.
The National Speed Skating Oval, also known as the Ice Ribbon for its twined shape, is the only newly built ice sports venue for the Beijing 2022 Games. Its designers have given full consideration to the sustainable post-Games utilization of the venue and have included hardware support for mass fitness activities and other uses. During ordinary times, the venue can hold more than 2,000 people and can be used for ice hockey, speed skating, figure skating, curling, and other ice sports all at the same time.
"This Winter Olympics is not only green in terms of venue construction but also in the procurement of goods, projects and services related to the preparation and corresponding standards. We have also been implementing the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 Carbon Management Plan, which sets specific numerical targets for reducing our carbon footprint," Liu said.
"We get really strong feedback from the international athletes, that the venues they are experiencing in Beijing are absolutely outstanding; there is a lot of excitement from them," Sports Director Kit McConnell of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) told an IOC Executive Board meeting in Athens on October 18. "So, it's great to see their feedback both on the technical side and their personal excitement building up towards these Games."
A staff member holds up a sign reminding people to wear their face masks at the Experience Beijing Speed Skating China Open in Beijing on October 9 (VCG)
"These Winter Games will face the issues of pandemic prevention and control like never before," Yu said. "We are currently working with the IOC, and other national Olympic committees to figure out a pandemic prevention and control plan to not only ensure the health and safety of all athletes, but also a simple, safe and wonderful Winter Olympics."
"The BOCOG, the IOC and the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) have agreed that all athletes should get fully vaccinated prior to their departure to China unless they are medically exempted," said Huang Chun, Deputy Director General of the BOCOG Pandemic Prevention and Control Office.
All vaccines recognized by World Health Organization or related international organizations, or approved officially by countries or regions concerned will be accepted. Athletes who can provide a justified medical exemption will have their cases considered.
"The athletes who are fully vaccinated as well as the athletes who are eligible for medical exemption will directly enter a closed-loop management system, which will be put in place for all Games participants from overseas to ensure that there is no contact with the general public," said Huang. To be implemented from January 23, 2022 until the end of the Paralympics on March 13, the system will cover all Games-related areas, including arrival and departure, transport, accommodation, catering, competitions, and the opening and closing ceremonies.
"Pandemic prevention in the Capital Gymnasium poses a serious challenge as it's old and close to Beijing's downtown area," according to Ding Dong, operation director of the venue.
"We have a special team for pandemic control," said Zhao Chengfang, person in charge of the COVID-19 prevention at the Capital Gymnasium, adding that a positive test result for coronavirus will trigger the emergency plan at once, and that a team will respond immediately to take the infected person to hospital and to identify close contacts for isolation.
Temperature checks will be conducted at the entrance to the venue. In the closed-loop, alcohol wipes and hand sanitizers will be provided almost everywhere.
Furthermore, based on a three-dimensional computer system, a smart operation center has been built to track the flow of people in the venue. A bioaerosol monitoring system in public spaces can detect COVID-19 particles in the air and produce related reports within 20 to 30 minutes.
Deniss Vasiljevs from Latvia, who finished fourth in the men's singles at the Asian Open, said he felt safe and comfortable competing in Beijing. "I've never seen a place where everybody observes the COVID-19 prevention rules in such a serious way," he noted.
Despite the social distancing protocols, the Beijing 2022 organizers have made efforts to create a pleasant atmosphere for the athletes. Smart watch-like intelligent thermometers with chips inside are employed in the Wukesong Sports Center, the ice hockey competition venue of the Games, to monitor the real-time body temperatures of personnel. The thermometers are accurate down to 0.05 degree Celsius and users can check their body temperature through an app on their phones.
As for the audience, Beijing 2022 organizers made it clear that tickets will be sold exclusively to spectators residing in China's mainland who meet the requirements of COVID-19 countermeasures.
Yu Zaiqing (right), special representative and Vice President of the Beijing Organizing Committee for the 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, receives the Olympic flame from Spyros Capralos, President of the Hellenic Olympic Committee, during the handover ceremony at the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens, Greece, on October 19 (XINHUA)
In line with the eco-friendly and hi-tech themes of Beijing 2022, a number of advanced technologies have been applied in the venues, such as full coverage of 5G signal. The bandwidth available in the venues will be capable of 8K ultra-high definition live broadcasting and virtual reality intelligent viewing.
Paralympic athletes will be able to use a smartphone application to navigate their way through the venues, find their own rooms and control lights, air conditioners and curtains. Accessible elevators, toilets, changing rooms and wheelchair ramps will also be available across the competition venues.
"We are ready to welcome the best athletes from around the world for a joyful gathering in Beijing, and we will once again ignite the world with the Olympic passion," vowed Yang Yang, China's first Winter Games gold medalist and Chair of the Athletes' Commission for the Beijing 2022 Games.
"Having athletes from all the national Olympic committees and from the IOC Refugee Olympic Team united in competition, living together, exchanging opinions, sharing their life stories and dreams—that's what really matters," Australian Olympic Committee President John Coates said.
"What matters even more is the rest of the world watching this. Watching how the Olympics creates an atmosphere of friendship, of understanding, of respect and of solidarity," Coates added.
(Print Edition Title: Burning Bright)
Copyedited by G.P. Wilson
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