Beijing build-up back on track

By SUN XIAOCHEN | China Daily | Updated: 2020-04-15 09:02
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The National Speed Skating Oval, a venue for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, shows off the impressive lighting system that has earned it its "Ice Ribbon" moniker on Jan 24. Photo provided to CHINA DAILY

2022 Winter Games organizers expertly negotiating virus-related setbacks as anticipation levels grow

Despite being affected by the ongoing coronavirus crisis, China's preparations for the 2022 Winter Olympics keep gaining momentum as excitement builds less than two years out from the Games.

Even with the delayed Tokyo Summer Olympics looming large over all proximate sporting events, organizers of the 2022 Beijing Games are cautiously pushing ahead with preparatory work at a time when global sports are taking a heavy hit from the pandemic.

Beijing's build-up received another boost on Sunday when the International Skating Union confirmed that the 2021 World Speed Skating Championships will be held at the newly built National Speed Skating Oval in the Chinese capital as a test event for the Winter Games.

Scheduled for Feb 25-28 next year, the speed skating worlds will unveil the new venue-the first of its kind in China-to a global audience.

Construction of the arena's main structure was completed in late December. With work resuming in early March under strict virus prevention measures, all the venue's major installations-including 22 light strands surrounding its exterior and an advanced ice-making system-have been finished and tested.

The venue, which is situated on the former archery competition site of the 2008 Beijing Summer Games, is expected to be finished ahead of an original June deadline.

After putting construction on hold at certain sites during the peak of the outbreak in China, preparation work is now back on track at all the Games' 26 venues in downtown Beijing, its northwest Yanqing district and co-host Zhangjiakou in Hebei province.

All the work is scheduled to be finished by the end of this year in time for the 2020-21 winter sports season, when a series of official test events will be staged across the three zones.

The National Speed Skating Oval, a venue for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, shows off the impressive lighting system that has earned it its "Ice Ribbon" moniker on Jan 24. Photo provided to CHINA DAILY

To enhance transport capacity between the host cities, China's national railway operator on Friday announced it is adding more trains to the new Beijing-Zhangjiakou high-speed railway. The line links the two cities with a 50-minute ride and runs through Yanqing.

A total of 44 pairs of passenger trains now operate on the line, which opened late last year, on weekdays, along with an additional seven pairs over the weekend, according to China State Railway Group.

The line had significantly boosted visitor numbers at ski resorts in Zhangjiakou's Chongli district, where the majority of Beijing 2022's snow events will be staged, until a virus-enforced shutdown of all tourism properties was imposed.

In the wake of the pandemic, the Beijing 2022 organizing committee has been running regular livestreaming training programs for its volunteers while maintaining communications with international sports federations and the International Olympic Committee via video-conference calls to avoid any health risks.

Still, some important preparatory events in Yanqing have been disrupted by the pandemic. An International Ski Federation Alpine Ski World Cup leg in February was canceled, while a track assessment at the new National Sliding Center in March was postponed.

The International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation and the International Luge Federation recently announced that the pre-homologation of the sliding center, which validates the safety and "drivability" of the track, has been rescheduled for Oct 26-Nov 1 at the venue, which remains in its final construction phase at Xiaohaituo Mountain in Yanqing.

The COVID-19 pandemic also poses potential challenges for Beijing 2022's marketing efforts.

With Tokyo 2020 moved to July 23-Aug 8 next year, some observers expect the proximity of the Summer Games to the Winter Games to deprive Beijing 2022 of maximum media attention and commercial investment.

However, the IOC hopes the uniqueness of the situation could actually work in Beijing's favor.

During a teleconference with media earlier this month, Christophe Dubi, the IOC's executive director of Olympic Games, described the unprecedented scheduling as a "formidable opportunity" to keep the excitement going.

"We will be in a context where Tokyo will generate an immense follow-up," Dubi said. "The reach of the Tokyo Games will be absolutely stunning, and right after the excitement that has been generated, we have the Winter Games in Beijing a few months later. So we truly believe that it is a great build-up towards the Beijing Games."

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