Athletes compete during the women's 1,500m final at the Experience Beijing Speed Skating China Open on October 10, 2021 (XINHUA)
With one month to go before the 2022 Olympic Winter Games opens in Beijing, Chinese President Xi Jinping has urged organizers to continue to work hard in the final stages of their preparations to ensure the event's complete success.
Xi, also General Secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, made the remarks during an inspection tour of Games-related facilities in the Chinese capital on January 4.
With all test events completed and the closed-loop management in operation as of Tuesday, Beijing is all set to become the first city to host both summer and winter editions of the Olympic Games.
"We are fully confident and capable of presenting to the world a fantastic, extraordinary and excellent Winter Olympics," Xi noted.
Finishing touches applied
Beijing 2022's "closed-loop management system" came into use on Tuesday as overseas staff began to arrive in the Chinese capital to prepare for the Games.
Anyone traveling into the city for the Games will enter the closed loop, where they will undergo daily testing for COVID-19 and be unable to access the outside world for the duration of their time in Beijing.
Meanwhile, the Beijing 2022 Organizing Committee (BOCOG) has been pressing ahead with final preparations for ceremonies, logistics, registration and marketing.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the traditional grand torch relay has been scaled down, with the relay only taking place in the three host areas - Beijing's downtown, its northwestern Yanqing district and co-host city Zhangjiakou in Hebei Province. The relay will take place from February 2 to 4, involving around 1,200 torchbearers.
To ensure that operations at all the Games' 12 competition venues meet Olympic standards, organizers are also busy fine-tuning facilities, organization and services across the three zones based on feedback from a series of international test events staged late last year.
Universal anticipation and excitement
Around 2,900 athletes representing approximately 90 National Olympic Committees (NOCs) will soon descend on Beijing. Many of them have been eager to share their thrill and excitement about the upcoming Games.
A medal hopeful for the host nation, freeskier Gu Ailing looks to carry her red-hot pre-Games form into Beijing 2022.
"I can't wait to participate in the Winter Olympics and have high expectations for my performance," said Gu, the first woman ever to have landed a right double cork 1440 in any freeski competition.
Equally as eager is British figure skater Natasha McKay, who will be making her Olympic debut. "It has always been a dream of mine and I am so excited that it is now becoming a reality," said McKay.
McKay's teammate Lewis Gibson, who will compete in the ice dance at Beijing 2022, echoed her thoughts. "I can't wait for the moment when we get to skate in Beijing with the Olympic Rings beneath our feet."
Watching the Olympic Games for the first time on TV and impressed by the venues in Beijing in 2008, Australian cross-country skier Seve de Campo is primed for his Winter Olympic debut.
"It's something that would mean a lot to me personally. I have worked hard for a lot of years," commented De Campo.
There is enormous enthusiasm from some of the veterans, too.
"It's going to be special to get a chance to go back [to the Olympics] and see what we can do," said American curler John Shuster, who aims to make history in Beijing following his success at PyeongChang 2018, as no one has won multiple gold medals in men's curling.
With fond memories from the 2008 Games still lingering, NOC officials also expressed their confidence in the successful delivery of the 2022 Winter Olympics.
"China has very big experience to host the Olympic Games. You have great facilities, you have experience, you know what to do," Ukraine's NOC president Sergey Bubka told Xinhua last month, adding that the Olympic Games belongs to all of humanity and is above politics, religion and borders.
New era for ice and snow sports
Fans are itching to watch the world's best winter sports athletes compete in one month's time. But beyond the 16 days of competition, a wider picture of engaging 300 million Chinese people in winter sports is even more exciting.
Themed "Winter Olympics Dream for a Shared Future", the 8th National Public Ice and Snow Season opened in Hubei Province last month, marking the first time that its opening ceremony has been held in central China. The season will run through to April.
Over 1,200 public winter sports activities were organized across the country last year, involving more than 100 million people aged between two and 70.
Winter sports have become so popular at grassroots level that 11-month-old Wang Yuji became an online celebrity after a video of her snowboarding in Chongli went viral.
Thanks to Beijing 2022, winter sports have also taken root in areas like the southern province of Guangdong, as well as the western autonomous regions of Xinjiang and Tibet.
During the last snow season, Xinjiang saw a huge increase in recruits to winter sports camps.
"We welcomed around 200 children a day during the past winter vacation, much more than the previous season," said Liu Yanan, manager of Baiyun Ski Resort in Urumqi, capital city of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.
In Tibet, ski mountaineering, which has been added to the program of the 2026 Olympic Winter Games, has seen rapid development in recent years, as local sports authorities try to promote adapted winter sports based on its terrain.
Opportunities for international brands
The International Ski Federation established a new office in China in 2021, and international brands are tapping into the fast-growing market in China, where more and more people are becoming interested in winter sports.
German winterwear brand Bogner, a longtime outfitter of Germany's Olympians, announced a joint venture with Chinese apparel group Bosideng last month. The alliance will lead to the establishment of a digital presence and the opening of 80 stores over the next five years.
Norwegian winter apparel brand Helly Hansen and Swedish ski brand Peak Performance also entered the Chinese market last year.
Paolo Bazzoni, chairman of the China-Italy Chamber of Commerce, believes that the boom in winter sports provides opportunities for Italian brands to increase their offerings in the Chinese market.
"It is foreseeable that the upcoming 2022 Winter Olympics in China and the 2026 Winter Olympics in Italy will deepen the friendly exchanges between the two countries while promoting the development of tourism, education and other industries," Bazzoni said.
TechnoAlpin, headquartered in Bolzano, Italy, is a global leader in snowmaking equipment with a 60 percent share in the global market. The company has served six of the last eight Winter Olympics and will provide snowmaking equipment and automation systems for Beijing 2022.
"We have benefited enormously from the  Olympic Games," said Pierpaolo Salusso, general manager of TechnoAlpin's Zhangjiakou offshoot.
According to the central government's 10-year winter sports development plan published in 2016, China's winter sports industry is forecast to be worth 1 trillion yuan (157 billion U.S. dollars) by 2025.