Gu Ailing competes in the women's freeski big air final run in freestyle skiing at the Lausanne 2020 Winter Youth Olympic Games in Leysin, Switzerland, on January 22 (XINHUA)
Zheng Fang has been involved in the design of Olympic and Paralympic Games venues twice—the first time for Beijing 2008, and the second for Beijing 2022.
As Deputy Chief Designer of the Beijing Institute of Architectural Design (BIAD), Zheng was in charge of the design of the National Speed Skating Oval, built right on the site of a temporary venue for shooting and field hockey competitions during Beijing 2008. That temporary venue was also designed by Zheng's team.
"It is rare for an architect to design venues for two Olympic Games at the same location," Zheng said. "We made it because Beijing is the first city ever to host both Olympic Summer and Winter Games. Many people have been involved in the construction for both the Games in the city."
Although named after Beijing, the 2022 Games will actually be held in three competition zones: downtown Beijing; Yanqing District in Beijing's northern suburbs; and Zhangjiakou, a city in Hebei Province neighboring Beijing. All the five venues for ice competitions are located in downtown Beijing.
In contrast to the other four ice venues that were renovated from existing buildings, the National Speed Skating Oval is the only ice venue that was built from scratch.
Sitting in the Beijing Olympic Park, also the location of the National Sports Stadium, nicknamed Bird's Nest, and the National Aquatic Sports Center, known as Water Cube, the oval has its own nickname: the Ice Ribbon, because from outside it looks as if the building is twined with steel ribbons.
The opening and closing ceremonies of the 2022 Winter Games will be held at the Bird's Nest, as they were at the 2008 Summer Games. The Water Cube has been transformed into an "Ice Cube" and will serve as the venue for curling, making it the first curling venue in the world converted from a swimming venue.
The construction of the Ice Ribbon kicked off in January 2018. The inspiration for the design came from the speed skating competition that the venue will host. "The ribbons, made of steel, are like the tracks left by the skate blades of the athletes," Zheng said. "There are a total of 22 ribbons, representing the year of 2022."
Engineers from BIAD made over 1,000 designs to choose from, wanting the design to be both good-looking and as environmentally friendly as possible. Their solution—a roof shaped like hyperbolic saddles that allowed the project to use only one quarter of the steel that would have been necessary for a traditional steel roof of the same size.
On December 25, 2020, construction of the venue was completed. On January 22, it witnessed the production of ice using the world's most advanced ice-making technology.
"Different from the ice venues of the previous Olympic Winter Games that used freon refrigerants for ice-making, four ice venues in Beijing used new refrigerants made of carbon dioxide," said Ma Jin, who is in charge of the ice-making project in the National Speed Skating Oval.
This new technology, with the least toxic and most eco-friendly natural refrigerants, can reduce carbon emissions to nearly zero, reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It is expected that this system will save over 40 percent in energy consumption compared with an ice rink with older systems.
The heat generated in the ice-making process will be recycled for stadium heating, athlete showers, ice melting, dehumidification and other necessities for the stadium. This is equivalent to saving about 1.8 million kWh of electricity every year in the National Speed Skating Oval alone.
This is just one of the efforts following the green principle of the 2022 Games. In May 2020, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), and the Beijing Organizing Committee for the 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (BOCOG) released the Beijing 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games Sustainability Plan. With 119 specific measures, it puts sustainability high on the agenda for Beijing 2022.
"As part of our green initiative, Beijing 2022 has placed top priority on ecological preservation, conserving resources and environmental friendliness," said Liu Xinping, head of the BOCOG's sustainability project.
President Xi Jinping also stressed the need to host the Games in a green, sharing, open and clean manner. He inspected the venues and preparation work of the 2022 Games on January 18 and 19, and during the tour, stressed the combination of the development of sports with the promotion of ecological progress.
In the Yanqing competition zone where two venues for snow competition were built from scratch, forestry experts first conducted an ecological study of the construction site and figuring out the best ecological restoration solution to minimize damage to the environment as well as to protect indigenous flora during construction.
The workers covered the trees with protective nets, watered and fertilized them as well as controlled insects during construction. They also transplanted trees that couldn't be preserved on-site to a special plot during the construction and moved them back after the construction. Wood cabins were set up near the site to protect wildlife including squirrels, pheasants and birds.
Chen Hongyi, a member of the national figure skating team, is in competition in Beijing on January 1 (XINHUA)
No easy task
By the end of 2020, all the venues for Beijing 2022 had been completed. It is the first time that China has constructed venues such as the National Sliding Center, to host bobsleigh, skeleton and luge competitions. Such venues are regarded as some of the most difficult ones to build.
"When we first arrived at the construction site of the National Sliding Center in Yanqing, there was nothing there, no roads, water or electricity," said Xia Wei, who is in charge of the construction of this venue. "And we didn't have any experience in building a venue like this before."
The most difficult part of the construction process is concrete spraying, which requires super strong physical power and high accuracy in operation. "The skill was dominated by Western technicians before, but we proved that our technicians can also do this," Xia said.
Among over 1,000 candidates, only 21 were selected to carry out this operation. Xiang Maosheng, a 54-year-old from Shanghai, is one member of the team. "The spraying machine itself weighs over 35 kg and we had to hold it high to spray," Xiang said. "At first, I couldn't work for over five minutes."
With hard physical exercises and repeated practice, finally they could work for hours. The team stayed at the site for over 11 months to complete this unprecedented task. The 1.9-km track is the first in China and the third in Asia after Japan and the Republic of Korea.
Ivo Ferriani, President of the International Bobsleigh & Skeleton Federation (IBSF), was awed by the venue after technical inspection in November 2020. "We have seen an excellently prepared track and were impressed by the smooth and perfectly organized event which was held under strict hygiene measures due to the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. This was definitely the most impressive pre-homologation we have seen," Ferriani told Xinhua News Agency.
Officials and experts were also impressed by the National Speed Skating Oval, the National Alpine Ski Center and the National Ski Jumping Center.
Nordic Combined Race Director Lasse Ottesen said he was truly impressed by the shape and form of the jumping hill and cross-country stadium. "We are currently having productive meetings with the local organizing committee which will benefit us greatly for the test events and Olympic Games to come," Ottesen said.
After Beijing 2022, all the venues will continue to function, hosting more winter sports competitions as well as serving as training bases for athletes and tourism destinations promoting winter sports. The Shougang Ski Jumping Platform in Beijing's downtown, which has been renovated from an abandoned steel factory, will be the world's first permanent ski jumping platform.
Hot winter sports
For a long time in China, the Summer Olympic Games have been significantly more popular than the Winter Games.
China participated in the Olympic Winter Games for the first time in 1980 but scooped its first gold medal only in 2002, won by Yang Yang in female short track speed skating. By 2015, when it won the bid to host Beijing 2022, China had just 12 gold medals in the Olympic Winter Games, and for quite a few events, such as bobsleigh and skeleton, it had no athletes at all.
Since the latter half of 2015, China has worked to establish national teams covering every event. At the Pyeongchang Games in 2018, even though China won only one gold medal, Chinese athletes made many breakthroughs at many events.
Geng Wenqiang, who used to be a long jumper, joined the national men's skeleton team in 2015. The Pyeongchang Games were the skeleton team's first Winter Olympics, and Geng ranked 13th in the final.
In January 2020, Geng bagged a bronze at the 2019/2020 IBSF World Cup in La Plagne, achieving the very first skeleton podium position for China. "I will spare no efforts to fight for the gold medal at Beijing 2022," Geng said.
Gu Ailing, a U.S.-born teenager who will represent China at Beijing 2022, became the first freestyle skier to win the halfpipe and slopestyle competitions on consecutive days at the International Ski Federation World Cup in Canada in February 2020.
For the 2022 Games, China will participate in all of the 109 events. In earlier years, due to climate factors, most of China's winter sports athletes were from the northeastern part. Now they are from more diverse places; for example, there are 41 athletes from Guangdong Province in south China.
The 1,153 athletes selected from the initial 4,000 candidates are approaching the final sprint in their preparations. The COVID-19 pandemic has made training and competing abroad impossible. Chinese teams thus have engaged in isolated training at home.
China has organized a series of domestic events to compensate for the lack of international competitions. Starting from February, a series of competitions will be held in the new venues.
To ensure the health and safety of the athletes, the government has established a health coordination group for Beijing 2022, an epidemic prevention and control taskforce and an expert panel to work on COVID-19 countermeasures.
Efforts for hosting such a large sports event are definitely not limited to venues and athletes. They cover various aspects. A green and efficient transport system, including a new high-speed railway connecting the three competition zones and metro lines linking all the venues in downtown Beijing, has been set up for the 2022 Games. New electric vehicle charging facilities are in place at both the venues and along the roads between Beijing and Zhangjiakou.
The Beijing-Zhangjiakou High-Speed Railway, launched in December 2019, shortens the travel time between downtown Beijing and Zhangjiakou from three hours to one hour, and the travel time between downtown Beijing and Yanqing from two hours to 26 minutes.
A flexible DC power grid set up in Zhangjiakou, rich in wind and solar resources, will supply the capital with 22.5 billion kWh of electricity every year in the future, accounting for one tenth of Beijing's total power consumption. It will make Beijing 2022 the first time in the history of the Olympics that all the venues will be wholly powered by green energy.
An advanced weather forecasting network to provide accurate forecasts in real time during the Games has been set up by experts from the Beijing Meteorological Observation Center. It will provide frequent wind and rain information for the outdoor competitions at the three competition zones.
"In the following days, cooperation among all parties will be further strengthened to lay a solid foundation for a successful Beijing 2022 Games," BOCOG Executive Vice President Zhang Jiandong said.
(Print Edition Title: Heat in A White World)
Copyedited by Sean Connolly
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