Youngsters enjoy the fun of skating during the Ice and Snow Festival outside the National Stadium in Beijing on Dec 26. (WEI XIAOHAO/CHINA DAILY/XINHUA/RAO QIANG/FOR CHINA DAILY)
With many venues already in operation, 2022 organizers can reflect on a highly productive 2019
With venues taking shape and test events underway, China's preparations for the 2022 Winter Olympics made huge strides in 2019 as organizers' focus shifted from construction to operation.
The impressive progress is perhaps best illustrated at the National Aquatics Center, the 2008 Summer Olympics venue known as the Water Cube that has recently been transformed into an "Ice Cube" following a year-long renovation project.
Now, four ice sheets lie over the center's original main pool, which has been filled by steel structures to host curling at the Winter Games.
After staging a national junior curling tournament last month, the center this week opened its Olympic-standard curling tracks to the public for experience sessions, making it one of the earliest completed facilities for 2022.
All 13 competition venues will be ready by June this year, according to the 2022 organizing committee.
The Games will be held in three zones, with downtown Beijing staging all ice sports, and the northwest Yanqing district and co-host city Zhangjiakou in Hebei province staging all the snow events.
About 90 kilometers northwest of downtown, the newly built National Alpine Skiing Center at Yanqing's Xiaohaituo Mountain is also a hive of activity these days, with organizers busy grooming the slopes in preparation for an International Ski Federation World Cup meet on Feb 15-16, the first of 15 official test events for the Olympics through early 2021.
Beijing 2022's readiness for competition has also seen FIS World Cup meets for freestyle skiing and snowboarding staged at the Big Air ramp at the capital's Shougang Industrial Park and the halfpipe slope in Zhangjiakou's Chongli district.
Organizers said the smooth progress on venue construction and refurbishment has pushed the ahead-of-schedule preparatory work into a new phase, focused on management and operation.
"Our venue preparation has progressed efficiently over the past year, which has laid a solid foundation for organizing the Olympics to the highest possible standard," said Liu Yumin, director of the planning, construction and sustainable development department of the 2022 organizing committee.
Curlers compete in a junior tournament in the National Aquatics Center, which has been transformed into a 2022 Winter Games venue. WEI XIAOHAO/CHINA DAILY/XINHUA/RAO QIANG/FOR CHINA DAILY
The productive year was capped by the opening on Monday of a high-speed railway line connecting the Games' three competition zones.
Boasting a maximum speed of 350 kilometers per hour, the 174-km line slashes travel time between downtown Beijing and Zhangjiakou from over three hours to about 50 minutes.
Taizicheng Station is the line's final stop in Chongli, where the 2022 venues for cross-country skiing, biathlon and ski jumping are all in shuttle-bus range.
"The high-speed railway will help improve the efficiency of our work, promote China's winter sports industry, and boost the ice and snow economy," Yang Yang, chairwoman of the 2022 organizing committee's athletes commission, said on Monday, after being among the passengers on the line's first official train journey to Chongli.
Other milestones for organizers last year included the launch of a global recruitment campaign in early December which is searching for around 27,000 volunteers for the Olympics and 12,000 for the Paralympics.
Over 600,000 applicants have already applied via the official online portal vol.beijing2022.cn, according to Yan Cheng, the organizing committee's human resources director.
The committee recruited 231 new employees in 2019 to grow to its staff to 705 in total; 175 of those were sent to work on internship programs at 14 international events for practical training over the past year, added Yan.
Games mascots－a panda in an ice suit named Bing Dwen Dwen for the Olympics, and a lantern-like cartoon kid called Shuey Rhon Rhon for the Paralympics－were also unveiled last year, kicking off a marketing blitz that is expected to yield impressive revenues.
While preparing for a "fantastic, extraordinary and excellent" Games, as underlined by the central government, the country is also sparing no effort to roll out a national plan of involving 300 million people in winter sports and recreation in the build-up to 2022 and beyond.
Landmark 2008 Olympics venue the National Stadium, aka the Bird's Nest, has switched into winter mode, providing entry-level curling, skating and ice hockey activities for the public as part of the second "Meet in 2022" Ice and Snow Cultural Festival.
The renovated Bird's Nest will host the opening and closing ceremonies for the 2022 Games.
China plans to build 650 skating rinks and 800 ski resorts by 2022, up from 334 and 738 respectively in June 2018, to help facilitate the mass winter sports promotion while stimulating consumption in associated businesses.
"It has been really inspiring for us to see how the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics have been a catalyst to creating real interest in winter sports participation in China," FIS secretary-general Sarah Lewis told China Daily during her visit to Beijing last month.
"The work has been done in a very professional and intelligent way so the long-term legacy is already truly up and running even before the Games, which means when the Games come around there is already more knowledge, interest and excitement for winter sports.
"There has been so much activity and engagement for winter sports in this country. Winter sports will become part of the daily routine of the Chinese."
This year, the 2022 organizing committee will launch designs for the Games' slogans and medals, while theme songs and the route of the torch relay will also be released.