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Olympic Countdown
As PyeongChang says goodbye to the Winter Olympics, Beijing gets ready to host the games
By Yuan Yuan  ·  2018-03-02  ·   Source: | NO. 10 MARCH 8, 2018

China's Liu Jiayu wins silver in the women' halfpipe snowboard final at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics on February 13 (XINHUA)

The Winter Olympic Games have clocked onto Beijing time following an 8-minute show unveiled at the PyeongChang closing ceremony on February 25.

The 8-minute preview, combining modern technology with traditional Chinese elements, was directed by Zhang Yimou, the man behind the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing.

Two ice dancers in special LED panda costumes led 22 other roller-skating performers in illuminating a grand picture of China's past, present and future through a synchronized performance. Easily recognizable Chinese components including the Great Wall, dragons and phoenixes were all incorporated into the show's visual language.

At the end, Chinese President Xi Jinping delivered a welcome message via a prerecorded video. "Together with all Chinese people, I welcome friends from all over the world. See you in Beijing in 2022," Xi said.

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach had already handed the Olympic flag to Beijing Mayor Chen Jining earlier in the closing ceremony, as Beijing gets ready to become the first city in Olympic history to host both the Summer and Winter Games.

An eight-minute preview for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics is unveiled at the closing ceremony of the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics on February 25 (XINHUA)

Late bloomers

China's standing on the medal table at this year's Winter Olympics—one gold, six silvers and two bronzes—is below par compared with the previous two iterations of the event. In Vancouver in 2010, China won five gold medals, two silvers and four bronzes, while in Sochi in 2014, the country notched up four golds, four silvers and two bronzes.

China attended the Winter Olympics for the first time in 1980 but had to wait for its first Winter Olympics medal (silver) until the 1992 Albertville games. On that occasion, Chinese athletes won three silver medals, all by female speed skaters. Since then, this sport has become China's strong suit at the Winter Olympics.

Ten years after winning its first medal, China clinched a first gold in Salt Lake City in 2002. Short track speed skater Yang Yang, born in 1976, clinched gold in both the women's 500- and 1,000-meter events.

It wasn't until 2006 in Turin that a male Chinese athlete claimed the highest Olympic honor, with Han Xiaopeng crowned freestyle skiing champion, which also marked China's first Olympic title in the snow.

Turin also saw Wang Meng, born in 1985, win gold, silver and bronze in short track speed skating. In Vancouver four years later, Wang swept the women's 500- and 1,000-meter events and 3,000-meter relay to become the most decorated Winter Olympian in China's history.

The Vancouver games in 2010 were fruitful for China with the country's athletes winning five gold medals, an all-time high for Chinese winter sports. It was the first time China finished in the top 10 of the medal table at a Winter Olympics.

Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo secured China's first figure skating Olympic gold, and Zhou Yang, another short track speed skater, also got a gold medal.

The female curling team was also worthy of praise, winning bronze in Vancouver and boosting the sport's profile in China. Figures from the World Curling Federation show that in 2010, China topped the global viewership of curling matches. The Vancouver games also saw the captain of China's female curling team, Wang Bingyu, became something of a national sports star.

One year before the Vancouver games, the curling team had wowed audiences by winning a gold medal at the 2009 Women's Curling Championship in an historic first for an Asian country. This was all the more surprising given that the national team was only formed in 2003.

In Sochi in 2014, Zhang Hong, born in 1988, won China's first-ever Winter Olympic gold in long track speed skating. China claimed three Winter Olympic golds in Sochi, with the other two again coming in the form of short track speed skating victories.

Skater Wu Dajing wins the gold medal in the men's 500m short track speed skating at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics on February 22 (XINHUA)

Striking the balance

There is an imbalance inherent in China's Winter Olympic success, one of both gender and type. Before the PyeongChang Olympics, 11 of China's 12 golds and 45 of the country's 53 total medals had come in ice-based competitions. The richest source of medals was short track speed skating, contributing 30 of the total medals, including nine golds. Of these nine short track gold medals, all were won by female athletes.

The 2018 Winter Olympics saw Chinese efforts to narrow the gulf in class between its ice and snow athletes. The country's delegation of 82 athletes constituted the most diversified group of sportspeople since China's first appearance at the event in 1980. They competed in 55 events, including 11 in which China was a debutant. What's more, the number of athletes in snow and ice events was the same.

Some of the athletes who competed in these new events were selected through an interdisciplinary talent selection program to identify and develop future Olympians.

Shao Yijun, 24, a former shot putter from the Shanghai athletics team, was selected as a member of China's first national bobsled team, which was established after Beijing's successful 2015 bid to host the 2022 Games.

Shao, a Shanghai local, is new to winter sports. "When I got on the sled for the first time, I was totally frightened. I dared not even go on a roller coaster before. It is like driving F1 in snow, a test of speed, steering and guts."

But Olympians do not give up. After three years of intense training with top level coaches in the form of bobsledder Manuel Machata of Germany and Olympic skeleton silver medalist Jeff Pain of Canada, Shao and his teammates finally made it to PyeongChang.

"To be at the Winter Olympics is already a success for us," Shao told Shanghai-based newspaper Xinmin Evening News. "Our goal in PyeongChang is to be better than ourselves. Regardless of whether we compete at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, I hope our experience can benefit younger athletes."

Shao's teammate, 21-year-old Wang Chao, is also from Shanghai. He used to compete at javelin also with the Shanghai athletics team. Their presence at the Winter Olympics has changed the geographical structure of China's team, which was previously dominated by athletes from the north of China, especially Liaoning, Jilin and Heilongjiang provinces in the northeast.

Zhang Peimeng, a former national track and field athlete, announced on January 31 that he had officially joined the country's bobsled team. If he makes it to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, he will be the first person in China to compete at both the Summer and Winter Olympics.

"It is a big challenge for me and a totally new start in my life," Zhang said in a post on microblogging platform Weibo. "I hope to be a medalist in 2022 in my hometown Beijing as a bobsledder."

Former long jumper Geng Wenqiang is now a skeleton racer. Skier Chang Xinyue claimed a spot at the Winter Olympics for the first time in history after ranking 16th at the women's Ski Jumping World Cup.

The men and women's freestyle ski halfpipe and female snowboard parallel giant slalom were also competed by Chinese athletes for the first time in PyeongChang.

Wu Dajing, 23, who won silver in Sochi in 2014, clinched China's only gold in PyeongChang, claiming the title and setting two 500-meter world records in the process to become China's first male gold medalist in short track speed skating. Conversely, the female short track speed athletes were unable to secure gold in PyeongChang.

Wang Bingyu revealed that she was feeling the pressure before the curling semifinal but said she felt relieved once she saw that her teammates, especially the younger ones, were enjoying the match.

"We won a few international games when players in other countries were not yet professional. But now this sport has expanded worldwide, we need to work harder to catch up," Wang told Xinhua News Agency. "I hope the younger players can grow up fast for the next Winter Olympics."

Heating up

Winter sports have seen a surge in popularity since Beijing's successful bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Liu Chunqi, a 33-year-old mother from Shiyan, a city in central China's Hubei Province, has witnessed a growing number of young athletes at the local boy's hockey club.

When Liu's 10-year-old son Tian Huasi started hockey training aged 5 in 2013, there were only six boys in the hockey team with Tian the youngest among them.

"Hockey was far from popular in Hubei in those days as ice and snow are not common here," Liu told Beijing Review. "There was only one ice pitch in the city and it was always under repair, so the coach had to take the boys to other cities to practice."

An avid fan of the sport, Tian resolved to never give up. He started as a small stumbling figure on the ice before going on to become a senior player in the team, which now has 16 members.

Teenagers play hockey on the frozen surface of the Kunming Lake in Beijing on January 21 (XINHUA)

Liu and her son have been to several countries including Canada and Thailand for intensive training camps and competitions. "We can feel a passion for hockey no matter where we go in China, and the competition is consequently becoming much fiercer," Liu said.

Many of China's northern provinces have seen a dramatic surge in the number of tourists visiting major winter tourism destinations during the colder months. Official figures show that by the end of 2016, about 11.3 million Chinese skied at least once a year. China aims to boost the number of people participating in winter sports to 300 million before the next Winter Olympics. According to the Chinese Government's plan, the country will have around 650 skating rinks and 800 ski resorts by 2022.

A plan jointly released by the Ministry of Education, the General Administration of Sport of China and the Beijing Organizing Committee for the 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games on February 27 laid out the blueprint for the development of winter sports in China's primary and secondary schools. It states that China will have 2,000 schools running winter sports courses by 2020 and 5,000 by 2025.

Primary and secondary schools in northern China are being encouraged to open winter sports courses, and schools in the southern part of the country should cooperate with local ice and snow stadiums to provide more opportunities for students to participate in winter sports.

The Chinese Government estimates that the value of the winter sports industry will top 1 trillion yuan ($158.9 billion) by 2025. Beijing is to hold the 2022 Winter Olympics along with Zhangjiakou, a city in neighboring Hebei Province, with the level of infrastructure in the area set to be greatly increased. A high speed railway connecting Beijing and Zhangjiakou is currently under construction and supposed to be operational by the end of this year.

"The preparations for the Winter Olympic Games in Beijing are progressing well on all fronts," said Chang Yu, Director of the Media and Communications Department of the Beijing Organizing Committee for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games, at a news conference in PyeongChang on February 24.

Chang revealed that the construction of venues is on schedule and that many of the sites used for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics will be repurposed for 2022. All new venues are being built with sustainability in mind.

"Beijing is well on its way to delivering a 'Green, Inclusive, Open and Clean' Winter Olympic Games in 2022 which will leave behind a great Olympic legacy for China," said Chang.

Copyedited by Laurence Coulton

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