By Sportswriters Wang Meng and Ji Ye
BEIJING, May 11 (Xinhua) -- When a total of 11 guests came together to push the button starting the official countdown timer on the Linglong Tower of the Olympic Park at 8:00 pm Beijing time on Friday, it is exactly 1000 days away from the 2022 Beijing Olympic Winter Games.
The memory is still vivid, on July 31, 2015, when members of the Chinese delegation jumped out of their seats upon hearing the word 'Beijing' from President of International Olympic Committee (IOC) Thomas Bach. Almost four years on, the preparations are underway as planned.
GREEN, SUSTAINABLE, HIGH-TECH VENUES AND INFRASTRUCTURE
"After 1,000 days, a sustainable venue equipped with state-of-the-art technology will be presented at the Beijing Olympic Winter Games," Zheng Fang, chief designer of the National Speed Skating Hall, told Xinhua with determination and pride.
The Hall, nicknamed the 'Ice Belt' for its exterior design of 22 floating ribbons, is the only newly-built ice event venue for the Beijing 2022. Now the main structure of the Hall and the cable net structure of the roof have already been completed.
Future ice-making task in the venue will use carbon dioxide instead of Freon as refrigerant to minimize damage to the environment, and 80% of the heat generated during the process will be recycled for venue heating and water use.
In 1,000 days, the 'Ice Belt' will welcome enthusiastic fans, who are going to have a brand-new experience of the games with advanced technologies including 5G, big data and cloud computing.
In fact, Zheng was familiar with the 1,000-day countdown to the Olympics. When Beijing was to host the 2008 Olympic Games, he was in charge of building five venues, including the iconic National Aquatic Center, nicknamed the 'Water Cube'.
Now the 'Water Cube' is being transformed to the 'Ice Cube' for the curling competitions during Beijing 2022. Taking charge of the transformation is Sun Weihua, who was also part of the designing team that built the Beijing 2008 icon in the first place.
Just like the 'Ice Belt', the 'Ice Cube' will be a smart venue, with automatic control of the temperature, humidity and lightening. Audience might have the chance to wear smart devices and 'feel' the matches in virtual reality.
More importantly, the transformation will be reversible as a movable and transferable ice rink will enable "ice-water conversion" at any time.
"In the future, the venue will change between 'water cube' and 'ice cube' according to different needs," Sun pictured.
The 'Water Cube' is not the only stadium that served the Beijing 2008 to be reused. There are ten others, including the 'Bird Nest' National Stadium and the Wukesong Sports Center, to play their role in the second Olympic Games held by the city.
Apart from that, venues in the Yanqing competition zone in the outskirts of Beijing and in the Zhangjiakou competition zone of Hebei Province, the two zones that mainly host snow events, are also being constructed or transformed as scheduled.
The newly constructed venues embrace Chinese elements. The National Ski Jumping Center, which will host competitions in Ski Jumping and Nordic Combined has a 'S-type' curve that resembles the shape of 'ruyi,' a traditional Chinese ornamental object for luck. In the Olympic village in Zhangjiakou, there are even ruins from the Jin Dynasty some 800 years ago.
Before the construction started, the Beijing municipal government and the government of Hebei Province had put forward a green standard for snow sports arenas, which will be a legacy that also benefit future venue construction in the two cities and even the entire country.
According to the general plan of venue construction, the majority of the venues for the Beijing Winter Games will be completed by the end of 2020, before they hold test events.
The National Alpine Skiing Center in the Yanqing Zone will be the first to face up the challenge in February 2020, when top athletes gather there for the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup. To make it possible, the venue has to be fully prepared by October this year.
"Hosting test events will help us identify the problems. Then by fixing those problems, we can assure everything goes smoothly during the Winter Games," said Li Xinggang, chief designer of the Yanqing Zone.
The Beijing 2022 Olympic Games Organizing Committee (BOCOG) has confirmed the venues will set stage for World Cup or World Championships of 15 Olympic Games events and five Paralympic Games events as test events in 2020.
Apart from venues, supporting infrastructures are also on the way. Highspeed rail and highway that connect the three game zones will be finished by the end of this year, slashing the traveling time to within an hour. The Beijing-Chongli highway, which links Beijing and Zhangjiakou's Chongli district, will enable self-driving shuttle buses to bring athletes and coaches from one game zone to another, which might be the first of its kind in China.
Thanks to the Winter Games, the city of Zhangjiakou is also on a highway of economic transformation. Despite shutting down all its 38 open-pit coal mines, which contributed a large share of its fiscal revenue, the city has seen its revenue rocketing from 440 million yuan in 2015 to over one billion in 2018. Chongli, once one of the country's poorest areas, has shaken off poverty this year.
On the city's blueprint, snow event tracks and venues will be preserved to ensure that they can be reused in the future, and tourism will be developed around the area to make it a holiday and leisure destination in the future.
Seeing the progress with his own eyes, IOC President Bach gave the preparation work for the Beijing 2022 full marks when he visited the Zhangjiakou and Yanqing zones earlier this year.
"The impressions are really excellent. The progress being made is remarkable. The projects are within the schedule," Bach said.
"The Beijing 2022 can set a new bench mark for a sustainable Olympic Games, on one hand benefiting from the legacy of the Beijing 2008 and on the other developing a new winter sports destination in a sustainable way," Bach said.
PREPARATORY WORKS WELL UNDERWAY
The Beijing organizers adopted a global view in the preparing process. Twenty-six foreign experts were introduced to offer their experience on organizing winter sports events.
From November 2017 to March 2018, Beijing 2022 sent a total of 254 staff members to PyeongChang 2018 to get first-hand experience by working in key roles in the local organizing committee or joining in an observational capacity.
So far, 1,200 officials in all 15 disciplines of winter sports have received trainings. A 400-member specialized team comprised of skiing lovers from all walks of life has been set up to assume the responsibilities of being technical officials and providing competition services.
All preparatory works are proceeding in an orderly manner. A total of 5816 mascot designs have been received after the BOCOG made a worldwide call. Ten of them excel after collectively reviewed by experts at home and abroad. After careful refining, the mascot will be unveiled in the second half of this year.
The opening ceremony proposals have been collected globally and reviewed by experts. The next step is to decide the chief director and establish a creative team.
Plans have been drawn up for the torch relay for the Winter Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games and a specialized team will be set up this year. Online torch relay is also given considerations as part of the journey.
Marketing program has seen a great success. Eight 'joint exclusive' official partners have been confirmed, which are Bank of China, Air China, Yili Group (dairy products), ANTA (sports apparel), China Unicom (telecommunication services), Shougang Group (urban regeneration services), CNPC (oil & gas), and Sinopec Group (oil & gas).
Franchise plan has been launched. So far, more than 780 products have been on sell, including two sets of commemorative stamps for Beijing 2022. Starting from the 1,000-day countdown, the BOCOG will continue to issue series of commemorative products at different countdown occasions until the opening ceremony.
"With a successful Beijing 2008, we are now standing on the shoulders of giants. We will try to leave a mark of the Chinese way on the Olympic movement in incorporating the Olympic Agenda 2020 and the IOC's New Norm," said Zhao Wei, director of BOCOG's culture and ceremonies department.
MASS PARTICIPATION IN THE WINTER GAMES AND WINTER SPORTS
Chang Yu, director of BOCOG's media and communications department, is always touched by the enthusiasm of the Chinese people towards the Winter Games.
"We frequently receive letters from people from all walks of life, giving us plans and suggestions on how to host a successful Winter Games, and we are so moved by them," Chang said.
Now, with the Beijing 2022's Olympic and Paralympic Games Volunteer Service Action Plan was launched at the '1000-Day-to-Go' countdown ceremony on Friday, they can have a chance to be part of the Games.
A total of 27,000 game-time volunteers will welcome the world with their beautiful smiles during the Olympics and 12,000 will serve the Paralympics.
"Volunteering is the easiest way for common people to be engaged in the Winter Olympics," said Yan Cheng, director of the human resources department of the BOCOG. "It's a good timing to release the Action Plan. This can help bring the Olympic and Paralympic Games closer to the general public and let them know more about the Games."
Yan was part of the team that trained the volunteers for Beijing 2008. He hopes Beijing 2022 can be the chance to carry on the spirit of volunteering and usher the volunteer service to a new phase in China.
"In my eyes, Beijing 2022 could be a new horizon for volunteer service in China," he said.
In fact, more people have already got involved in the Olympics in a broader sense - in the sports themselves. Indoor ice and ski arenas have been built in China's sub-tropical south to make it possible for local people to have a taste of the winter sports. Ski resorts have been among the destinations for holidays. China's first Winter Sports Festival in Beijing earlier this year was flooded with visitors. More and more people who don't even know the winter sports themselves have had a try.
Bach told Xinhua during his visit to the venues, "What is important is that we see the growing engagement of the Chinese people with winter sports. We met children who were enthusiastically playing winter sports, and we met tourists who are becoming familiar with winter sports, and therefore making a great contribution to achieve this goal of making 300 million Chinese familiar with winter sports."
And the BOCOG has more to offer.
After opening official social media accounts, the BOCOG is on making short videos to introduce different winter sports. Themed activities will be organized in different cities on the International Olympic Day on June 23, the National Fitness Day on August 8 and during winter time. After the Children's day, BOCOG's Winter Olympics and Paralympics exhibition center will reserve 50% of its opening time for middle and elementary school students. The committee will also join hands with the Ministry of Education to enable more schools to open classes on Winter Olympics and winter sports.
"We hope these activities can help plant a seed of the Olympics in the heart of the younger generation," said Zhao Wei, director of BOCOG's culture and ceremonies department.
CHINESE ATHLETES READY TO FACE UP CHALLENGES
"For athletes, 1,000 days mean there are merely two seasons and a half left," short track speed skating world champion Fan Kexin had her own explanation of the countdown.
Lacking an established tradition of winter sports, China had no presence in around one third of Winter Games disciplines by the time the country won the bid to host the 2022 Games, and in another one third China was far from being competitive on the global stage.
After China won nine medals, including one gold, in PyeongChang in 2018, a grand plan was put forward to have China competed in all 109 events in 2022. The last time a host nation participated in all available disciplines at a Winter Olympics was the U.S. at Salt Lake City 2002, when only 78 disciplines were available.
To reach this goal, Chinese national teams have expanded their selection pool by choosing suitable athletes from summer sports such as athletics, dancing and martial arts. Around 1,200 athletes out of 20,000 candidates entered the pool through these channels. And 109 national teams are now heading together for the goal of full participation.
On April 20, the speed skating national team started training in Hainan.
On April 25, the short track speed skating national team assembled in Beijing.
On the same day, the skeleton national team kicked off the new season with a motivation meeting in Shanghai.
On April 27, the cross-country skiing national team gathered in Qinhuangdao, Hebei province.
With 1,000 days left before the Beijing 2022, the majority of the national teams have assembled for the new season, after a short rest for merely a month or two.
In the new season, the teams will move on from pooling talents to identifying top or promising athletes and train them with personalized methods to bring out their best.
For this aim, many national teams brought in experienced foreign coaches. Take the short track speed skating national team for example, of the 18-member coaching team, nearly half are foreign coaches. On the neighboring ice rink, Canadian coach Brian Orser, who once led South Korea's Kim Yuna and Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu to Olympic champions, are giving instructions to Chinese figure skaters. He and his team will help train Chinese coaches and athletes in six training camps in China.
Meanwhile, going out to learn from the winter sports giants is another common choice.
Founded in September 2018, the Chinese Alpine Skiing national team trained in Italy for four months with an aggregated 500 training hours, approximately 4.5 hours per day. Six of them became the first Chinese athletes to make an FIS Alpine Ski event, and five of them earned precious ranking points.
"Despite being a later starter, we are marching towards becoming a winter sports power," said Gao Zhidan, deputy director of the State General Administration of Sport. "If we can keep the momentum, we can achieve significant breakthroughs at Beijing 2022 and become even better at the 2026 and 2030 Winter Games."
"Winning honor for my motherland is my biggest dream at Beijing 2022," PyeongChang Olympic short track speed skating champion Wu Dajing declared his ambition at an oath-taking ceremony held on Friday. "I will not lie on my previous achievement, and take every competition from now on as the Olympic Games."
"I will keep moving forward, always on the way of becoming better," freestyle skiing aerials World Cup champion Xu Mengtao said.
In 1,000 days, the 'Ice Belt' will welcome fans around the world with its 22 exterior ribbons floating in the air. In 1,000 days, the smile of the volunteers will light up the venues and streets in Beijing and Zhangjiakou. In 1,000 days, Chinese athletes will give it all competing with the cream of the crop in winter sports. In 1,000 days, the winter sports extravaganza will be unveiled in the 'twice-Olympic' city of Beijing.
Seize but the day!