Prince of Monaco's obsession with Winter Games goes viral
Causally wearing a blue down jacket and sports cap, Prince Albert II of Monaco braced the heavy snow to watch the snowboarding events of the Winter Olympics at Genting Snow Park on Wednesday.
The 61-year-old prince, a former professional winter sports athlete, competed in five Winter Olympic Games between 1988 and 2002. He ranked 25th in the luge in 1988, his best Olympic performance.
His visit to the park in Zhangjiakou, northern Hebei Province, to mainly watch the farewell events of legendary American snowboarder Shaun White, has gone viral on Chinese social media.
Four years ago, White claimed his third Olympic gold in PyeongChang and has announced that the Beijing Games will be his fifth and last Winter Olympics.
"The prince said he wanted to try snowboarding, but had to give up because of his age," said Shu Wen, vice president of the park who accompanied the prince to watch the competition.
The sovereign is among a group of royal family members who are obsessed with Olympic sports. Other famous royal Olympic fans include Spain's King Juan Carlos I, his wife Queen Sofia and daughter Princess Cristina.
Prince Albert arrived in Beijing on February 2 to attend Friday's opening ceremony. This is his 11th visit to China.
He praised the opening ceremony for having "sent a message of peace and solidarity, which is exactly what the world urgently needs."
"It was not only a great showcase for Chinese culture and technology, but also what the Olympic spirit means to everyone in China and the world," he said in an interview with Xinhua News Agency.
He also attended the opening ceremony of the Beijing Summer Olympics in 2008, the opening ceremony of the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing in 2014, and the IAAF World Championships in Beijing in 2015.
Prince Albert is a member of the International Olympic Committee, president of the Monaco Olympic Committee, and honorary chairman of the Union Internationale Motonautique (UIM), the world governing body of powerboating.
A video clip of the prince asking to bring two Winter Games mascots home for his twins has further propelled the little panda Bing Dwen Dwen's popularity.
During a visit to a small Spring Festival temple fair in the Great Hall of the People, the sovereign received a small dough figurine as a gift in the image of the Games' mascot.
On receiving the figurine, the prince asked the volunteers, "Can I ask you a big favor? Could I do a second one? I have twins, and if I only bring that one home … "
The video clip by Chinese television channel CGTN has gone viral among Chinese netizens.
Chinese President Xi Jinping later congratulated the prince: "You have chosen two adorable Bing Dwen Dwens as souvenirs for your children. We hope that as they grow up they will become as talented and keen on winter sports as you are."
Snowboarder Shaun White did not perform well on the first round of qualification on Wednesday. He fell heavily and failed to get up immediately. He only scored 24.25, lagging far behind the 87.25 scored by his chief rival, the 23-year-old Ayumu Hirano from Japan, the Games' youngest ever snowboarding medalist.
Prince Albert II watched the whole competition and cheered for his idol in section B of the spectators' stand.
White eventually managed to qualify for the final with a successful complicated movement. The prince applauded happily.
Despite the snowfall getting heavier, the prince walked to the neighboring course to watch the women's snowboarding. American veteran Lindsey Jacobellis won the gold medal, 16 years after she won a silver medal at the Games in Turin.
The prince is the first member of Monaco's royal family to engage in the Olympic Games. He became a member of Monaco's luge team at the Winter Games in Calgary, Canada in 1988, and participated in the three following Games. He is also good at tennis, football, swimming and judo.
The prince said he was once a shy and diffident boy, but sporting activities helped him change personality.
Under his influence, multiple members of the royal family have actively participated in the Olympic Games. His niece, the Princess Charlotte Casiragh, has become a famous equestrian and another princess was a diver at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games.
During his diplomatic visit to Beijing, Prince Albert mentioned how a greener and more sustainable Beijing Winter Olympics will leave a great legacy for the future of winter sports.
The International Olympic Committee Sustainability and Legacy Commission chair has appraised the reuse and repurposing of existing venues and the use of renewable energies at the Games.