Winter Olympics enthusiasm runs high in Xinjiang, Tibet in western China

Seeing photos of himself raising the 2008 Olympic torch, Dorje Qiuyun was excited at a recent themed exhibition of Olympic culture held in Lhasa.

Seeing photos of himself raising the 2008 Olympic torch, Dorje Qiuyun was excited at a recent themed exhibition of Olympic culture held in Lhasa.

The retired archer is the first Tibetan Olympian representing China, competing at the 1988 Summer Olympics. Talking about the upcoming Beijing 2022 winter Olympics, the 58-year-old said that it had long been his dream to pass the torch once again in his homeland.

"As an athlete, nothing compares to competing for your own country at the Olympics. It's a pity that I'm not good at skiing, so the torch relay might be my only chance to participate in Beijing 2022," Dorje said with humor. "But I have faith in our young skiers. They may make history for China's winter sports."

Boasted of mountainous landscapes and long snow season, Tibet and Xinjiang, two autonomous regions located in western China, are showing potential as winter sports hubs.

Since Beijing won the bid to host the Winter Olympics, China has formed a long-term vision of the development of winter sports, and a group of skiers from border areas emerge as a result.

"My goal is to compete at Beijing 2022. There is nothing to hide. The pandemic adds to the difficulty of the preparation for qualification, but I will keep myself in good form to make every day's work count," said 18-year-old Tsering Dradul, who is now training with other Tibetan skiers in national cross-country team of China in Nyingchi City in eastern Tibet.

Earlier this year, Dradul went to train in Norway, the hometown of his idol Johannes Klaebo.

"The local coaches thought highly of Dradul because of his endurance and his acclimation to altitudes. These are the special advantages of athletes born in mountainous areas," said Langjia Dorje, Dradul's coach in the national team.

Dradul competed at the FIS Cross-Country Skiing China City Tour in Altay, the first FIS level competition Xinjiang has ever held since 2013, where local skier Yeernaer Abudelehan grabbed silver in the men's 15km mass start classic event. The 21-year-old, who is among a group of Xinjiang skiers competing for berths into the Olympics, was confident that "Xinjiang is one of the best ski resorts in the world".

Aside from the growth in professional athletes, Beijing 2022 has also boosted the winter sports market in Xinjiang and Tibet. In last snow season, Xinjiang saw a huge rise in the enrollment number in winter sports camps.

"We welcomed around 200 children a day during the past winter vacation, much more than the previous season. We also have more families coming here," said Liu Yanan, manager of Baiyun Ski Resort based in Urumqi, capital city of Xinjiang, adding that upgraded facilities have also contributed to the popularity of the sports.

Thanks to local governments' support, many high-caliber practitioners have also come to Xinjiang in a bid to promote winter sports. Xu Xiujuan, a former Chinese international, is one of them.

"I have witnessed the rise of winter sports here and wish to make more people feel the passion of ice and snow with professional instruction," said Xu, who gives free snowboarding classes every weekend.

In Tibet, Winter Olympics licensed merchandise products have gone viral since the first retail store opened in Lhasa last August.

"Sales surpassed 20,000 yuan (approximate 3,100 USD) on the day we opened, and the average sales last year remain above 10,000 yuan per day, " the store's manager Tenzin Sandro said. "Mascots and coins are the most popular items. Many old people bought them as gifts for their grandchildren, and we also met lots of parents bringing their children here to learn knowledge about the winter Olympics."

Held in a vast country with colorful cultures and long history, Beijing 2022 will be a stage to display various cultural and historical elements around China.

An award was recently granted to a work inspired by a piece of brocade unearthed in Xinjiang in the Uniform Visual Appearance Design Solicitation for the Beijing 2022 Winter Games.

According to Tao Tao, manager of the local design team, their work is inspired by a piece of brocade, which is deemed to be a product from Han dynasty. The brocade has eight Chinese characters on it that literally read "five stars rise in the East, benefitting China", and is designated as a national treasure as well as a testimony of communication between different ethnic groups in ancient China.

"As a design team from Xinjiang, we want to contribute to Beijing 2022 by giving more exposure to local elements from different parts of China," said Tao. "It's exciting to tell the story of how the Chinese nation is formed on the global stage."

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