Beijing's coolest venue warming to new role

By SUN XIAOCHEN | China Daily | Updated: 2021-04-08 07:54
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Figure skaters perform at the renovated Capital Indoor Stadium, where the delicate task of adjusting the ice temperature is being tested this week by a team of experts. WEI XIAOHAO/CHINA DAILY

Renovated Capital Indoor Stadium ramps up Games preparations

As the oldest of all Beijing 2022 venues, the Capital Indoor Stadium has transformed into a double-duty ice sports center following a facelift to stage two of the host's strongest disciplines at the Winter Olympics.

Built in 1968 as a multi-purpose summer sports facility, the stadium still evokes its past in much of its exterior appearance. However, the skating events taking place this week in its renovated competition hall herald an exciting new era for the landmark venue in the lead-up to the 2022 Winter Games.

With the arena playing host to figure skating and short-track speed skating in 2022, organizers and operational staff are currently attempting to perfect the transition between the two disciplines as part of the ongoing ice sports test program for the Games.

Key procedures of the switch involve the adjustment of ice temperatures, and changing the safety pads and judging seats. All this must be completed within two hours to host figure skating in the morning and afternoon before the short-track races in the evening, as per the Olympic schedule.

Despite being a powerhouse in both disciplines, China has previously had little organizational experience in handling such a logistical changeover.

"It's a brand new challenge for us because this combined arrangement only happens at the Olympics," said Shen Ling, director of the stadium's transition operation.

"It's difficult for us as a first-time Winter Olympics organizer, but we have prepared very well for the operation, and the test program will help us perfect the execution with repeated practice."

Starting from Saturday, Shen's team of 40 staff have had to complete the transition seven times over the course of six days, in order for competitions and training sessions of the two disciplines to take place alternately without any delay.

Guiding them on the delicate task of adjusting the ice temperature is French technician Remy Boehler, who was hired by Beijing 2022 to prepare the rink for the Olympics.

Boehler, the chief ice maker for the two disciplines at the 2018 Games in South Korea, stressed that figure skaters and speed racers require different densities of surface to cater to their respective moves. Softer and thicker ice suits figure skaters for digging in to perform jumps and spins, while a firmer and thinner surface helps speed skaters to push hard for acceleration.

With a complete change of the ice surface not an option during the Olympics, Boehler's team has to adjust temperatures within a range of three degrees Celsius in between sessions to either soften the surface for figure skaters or harden it for speed skaters.

"He's enlightened us on many details regarding the maintenance of the ice surface," Sun Luyong, a Chinese assistant on Boehler's team, said of the French expert.

"From the control of ice temperature to the skills of ice layer shaving, we have so much to learn from him."

Changing the protective pads will be a key task during the changeover from figure skating to speed skating at the Capital Indoor Stadium at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. WEI XIAOHAO/CHINA DAILY

To allow more time for temperature control, Shen's team has managed to speed up the transition process for protective pads, with the thick cushions used for speed skating replaced by thin fences for figure skating.

"From spending over 40 minutes at the first rehearsal to now completing it within half an hour, we've managed to buy more time for our ice technicians," said Shen.

"The more we practice, the better and faster we get the job done. This is what this week's test program is all about."

The joint effort has earned positive feedback from athletes participating in the test event.

Pang Siyu, a 15-year-old amateur short-track speed skater, was thrilled to clock a personal best in the women's 500m final on the Olympic track.

"This rink is awesome," she said after winning in 45.71 seconds on Sunday. "This is definitely the fastest ice I've skated on. I don't want to leave the rink yet as I haven't had enough."

With the trial program continuing, ice quality at the Capital Indoor Stadium is braced for a sterner test of its durability when China's national team speedsters, including men's reigning 500m Olympic champion Wu Dajing, lace up for nine events from Thursday to Saturday.

With short-track and figure skating considered two of China's most competitive disciplines, the 15,000-seat Capital Indoor Stadium is expected to draw the biggest crowds during the 2022 Winter Games, potentially posing big challenges for the control of ice quality. The more people in the arena, the more difficult it is to control the venue's air temperature and humidity, complicating the ice density adjustment.

Despite the unpredictable variables at the venue, Boehler, who was allowed more time to complete the ice transition at the last Games in South Korea, said he is certain that the surface will meet the Olympic standards next year.

"This is really good preparation," he told Xinhua.

"Everybody can now test the ice with the same conditions as the Olympic Winter Games."

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