The world was very much a different place seven years ago when Beijing started its journey towards the 2022 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games – no COVID-19, no Brexit and Donald Trump was just a wacky political outsider with no hope of becoming president of the United States.
On July 31, 2015, at the 128th session of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Kuala Lumpur, the announcement was made that Beijing had won its bid to host the Games.
IOC President Thomas Bach announces that Beijing has won its bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games. Image via Weibo/@福州外语外贸学院团委组织部－
The Chinese capital beat off competition from Almaty (Kazakhstan), Krakow (Poland), Lviv (Ukraine), Oslo (Norway) and Stockholm (Sweden).
Fast forward to early 2022 and the Games are nearly here. The Olympic Winter Games are due to start on February 4, 2022. Meanwhile, the Paralympic Winter Games start on March 4, 2022.
Hosting the summer Olympics more than once has been done many times before; think of Athens (1896 and 2004), Paris (1900, 1924 and soon to host in 2024), London (1908, 1948 and 2012), Los Angeles (1932, 1984 and soon to host in 2028) and Tokyo (1964 and 2020).
But what makes Beijing particularly special is that it becomes the first ever “double Olympics City,” hosting both the summer and winter games.
Coming of Age
Many labelled the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games as a milestone in the development of modern China. The IOC released a series of videos entitled Coming of Age: China After 2008 on exactly this topic.
The series covered the growth in popularity of running thanks to Beijing’s Olympic Forest Park built as part of the 2008 Olympic facilities; the increase in students attending private sports schools; how the port city of Qingdao was put on the map after hosting 2008 Olympic sailing events; how basketball star Yao Ming brought the sport to minority areas and more.
Canadian national Justin Downes is the president of Axis Leisure Management; the company has been involved in the development of resorts and facilities for the Games including the Genting Freestyle venue in Zhangjiakou since 2009, and the Alpine venue in Yanqing since 2018.
Axis Leisure Management has also taken on logistical responsibilities for the Games in the form of “on the ground” support services for many National Olympic Committees (NOCs), something Downes says has been “an intensive, yet important role” given that no NOCs have been able to visit China for more than two years due to COVID-19.
Downes first came to China in 2006 at the invitation of the China division of Intrawest, a major operator of ski resorts in North America.
After moving permanently to Beijing in 2007, he has witnessed what could be described as another “coming of age,” this time with regard to winter sports.
“I have had the privilege of having worked in some capacity on most of the country’s major resort developments under my own company, Axis Leisure Management, formed in 2009. When I first arrived, China was really only getting started in the (winter sports) industry. However, China already had approximately 200 small places where you could strap on skis or a snowboard, and perhaps 200,000 participants nationwide,” Downes tells That’s.
“Now, China has more than 800 ski destinations, more than 25 million skier visits and is on track to become the largest skiing nation in the world by participation. It will also represent more than RMB1 trillion of annual economic value by 2025.”
Downes goes on to stress the challenges of embedding the “mountain culture” into Chinese society, a culture which already exists in North American and European resort towns and communities.
However, he also emphasizes China’s unique advantages which have enabled the country’s winter sports industry to grow. These include the use of modern technology; significant investment by government and developers; advanced snowmaking, grooming and lift systems; as well as developed transport infrastructure to get winter sport enthusiasts to the venues.
So, what will be the legacy of the Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games?
“China will surprise itself and the world in its collective (medal) success on the Olympic sporting stage, and this success will surely motivate more people to enter the sport. The school PE curriculum already significantly favors winter sport participation and this will surely continue well after the Games.
“All of these things, coupled with a general desire by all Chinese people to have a happier and healthier quality of life, a rekindled enjoyment of domestic travel and adventure will certainly strengthen the next stage of fast paced growth in the industry.
“The venues will provide a significant lasting legacy for the amateur and professional snow sport industry. From a technology standpoint, the venues are second to none. Nothing was spared in ensuring that the venues from a technical and operational standpoint would be world class.
“In addition to the competition venues themselves, the infrastructure improvements, such as high-speed rail and highway installations, will guarantee that the venues remain increasingly accessible in the years to come. The highspeed rail from Beijing to Yanqing and Chongli is a gamechanger and now puts seven ski resorts on the doorstep of Beijing (a city of over 23 million people) in just 50 minutes.”
Undoubtedly, the China of today is very different to the China of 14 years ago. But there are a few things that link the 2008 and 2022 Games together. One of these is the venues.
The National Stadium
Image via Instagram/@sogarlum
The venue is also known colloquially as “The Bird’s Nest” due to its appearance. The stadium hosted the opening and closing ceremonies, as well as athletics and men’s football final of the 2008 Olympics.
No sporting competitions will take place at the National Stadium for the Winter Olympics. However, the venue will host the opening and closing ceremonies.
National Aquatics Center
Image via Instagramemail@example.com
The venue is also known as “The Water Cube” and hosted the swimming, diving and synchronized swimming during the 2008 Games.
The venue has now been transformed into “The Ice Cube” and will host the curling and wheelchair curling in 2022.
National Indoor Stadium
Image via Instagram/@canlifesports
Rhythmic gymnastics, trampoline and handball took place in the venue during 2008.
In 2022, the National Indoor Stadium will host ice hockey and para ice hockey events.
Wukesong Sports Center
Image via Weibo/@北京2022年冬奥会
In 2008, the venue played host to the basketball competition.
Along with the National Indoor Stadium, the Wukesong Sports Center will be home to the ice hockey competition.
National Speed Skating Oval
Image via Weibo/@北京头条
As the only new venue built on Beijing’s Olympic Green (constructed for the 2008 Games), the venue will, as the name suggests, host the speed skating competition.
The site was originally used for field hockey and archery in 2008.
Capital Indoor Stadium
Image via Weibo/@Rika-酱
Volleyball took place at the venue in 2008.
In 2022, the Capital Indoor Stadium will host the short track speed skating and figure skating competitions.
Fun fact: the arena was built in 1968 and hosted table tennis matches between China and the United States in 1971 as part of the infamous “ping pong-diplomacy.”
Big Air Shougang
Image via Weibo/@衡湘贤才
The former industrial site of Shougang Park is now home to a newly built ski jump. Freestyle skiing big air and snowboard big air competitions will take place here.
Beijing Olympic Village
Image via Weibo/@高新服务
The venue will serve predominantly as accommodation for athletes competing in ice sports.
National Sliding Center
Image via Instagram/@visitbeijingofficial
As the first sliding track in China, the center will host the bobsleigh, skeleton and luge competitions. Brand new, it is the first in the world to include a 360-degree turn.
National Alpine Ski Center
Image via Weibo/@远东控股集团
Located in the Xiaohaituo mountain area of Beijing’s Yanqing district, the center will, as the name suggests, play host to alpine skiing and para alpine skiing.
Yanqing Olympic Village
Image via Weibo/@香港衛視HKS
Designed with distinct characteristics of a northern Chinese mountain village, the venue will accommodate 1,430 athletes and team officials.
National Biathlon Center
Image via Weibo/@元宝网信
As the name of the venue suggests, the center will be used for biathlon, para biathlon and para cross-country skiing.
National Ski Jumping Center
Image via Weibo/@光明日报
Not surprisingly, the center will be used for the ski jumping, as well as the ski jumping portion of the Nordic combined event.
National Cross-Country Ski Center
Image via Weibo/@无所谓97916
You guessed it, the center will be used for the cross-country skiing, as well as the cross-country portion of the Nordic combined.
Genting Snow Park
Image via Weibo/@甘肃网络辟谣举报平台
This existing ski resort in Zhangjiakou will play host to a number of snow competitions in 2022.
Freestyle skiing, snowboarding and para snowboarding will all take place here.
Zhangjiakou Olympic Village
Image via Weibo/@观察者网
A total of 2,640 athletes and team officials will be accommodated at the site during the Games.
The COVID Effect
Of course, Beijing 2022 cannot be discussed in isolation from COVID-19. After all, this is not the first Olympics to be affected by the virus following Tokyo 2020.
While China has largely controlled the spread of the virus, the arrival of athletes, coaches, press and a large number of other people from overseas has fueled fears that a COVID-19 outbreak may occur as a result of the Games.
In response, authorities have established a closed-loop management system between competition venues, accommodation and elsewhere in order to ensure the safety of all involved in the Games and of China’s population.
Authorities have also made clear that fans will not be able to travel from overseas to attend the Games and that tickets will only be sold to selected groups of individuals.
Let’s hope it’s the last Olympics with the ugly shadow of COVID-19 hanging over it!
Let the Games Begin!
Put all the hype and speculation to one side and get ready to start watching the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Over the next few days, we will be publishing everything you need to know about the what, where and who of each event (even the weird sports you never pay attention to). Stay tuned for a Paralympic Games edition in March.
Check out all 15 events in our Beijing 2022 Bluffer's Guide by scanning the QR:
[Cover image via Instagram/@beijing2022]