How Beijing 2022 is transforming landscape of winter sports in China
The Olympic flame in the Bird's Nest Stadium was extinguished as the Beijing 2022 Winter Games closed last Sunday night. But beyond the venues, the spark ignited by the 16-day sporting gala has already spread nationwide.
"With the truly exceptional Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022, we welcome China as a winter sport country," said Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) during his address at the closing ceremony.
Setting records as the most watched and the most digitally-engaged Winter Games, Beijing 2022 also extends its influence in real life, with a surging number of ice-snow sports participants, a booming winter sports industry, and most importantly, a seed sowed in the minds of hundreds of millions of people in China.
According to IOC spokesperson Mark Adams, 2.05 billion hours of Beijing 2022 coverage were watched on TV as of February 11 in China, which is 15 percent more hours viewed than the whole of PyeongChang 2018 and Sochi 2014 put together.
Among the viewers were Li Yunxi and her younger sister Li Yunting, two primary school students in China's central city of Wuhan. During the winter vacation, watching the Games on TV while roller skating at home has been a daily routine for them.
On February 5, the sisters witnessed how China won its first-ever Olympic short track mixed relay gold with their father Li Xiang. "They were so excited and asked to try ice skating the other day," said the father, who accompanied his daughters to participate in an ice and snow carnival in Wuhan, which was open to the public free of charge.
Two days after the carnival, the sisters registered for an ice-skating training course which will last for a semester. "I like the feeling of skating on ice. Though it hurts when I fall down, I seem to forget the pain when I skate again," said Li Yunxi. "I hope I can master it through practise, and maybe I can skate as fast as Olympians one day," her sister added.
Worldwide, the Beijing Winter Olympics has also become the most watched Winter Games ever, with more than 100 million Americans tuning in on the networks of NBCUniversal.
In addition to watching television broadcasts, fans were also active on social media, with 2.7 billion engagements on Olympic channels, making it the most digitally engaged Winter Games to date.
On Weibo, China's Twitter-like social media platform, trending topics related to Beijing 2022 accounted for more than half of the top 50 topics every day since the Games began. Athletes with both medals and regrets gained a lot of love from fans online.
China's ski sensation Gu Ailing attracted over 2.86 million new followers on Weibo in a week, while short-track skater Wu Dajing saw his followers surpass 10 million after finishing fifth in men's 5,000m relay, his last competition at his home Olympics.
"The seven-year preparation for the Games changed China's winter sports in quantity, as we gradually attracted over 300 million people onto slopes and rinks. A qualitative change is happening with the successful holding of Beijing 2022," noted Wang Han, a researcher with China's bobsleigh team.
"The unique charm of winter sports - be it artistic, thrilling or clashing - has filtered into people's minds, and Beijing 2022 is the ice-breaker," Wang added.
Outside the arenas, people's enthusiasm for winter sports has also been spurred.
According to figures from China's online travel agency Ctrip, the booking volume of ski-themed hotels increased 54 percent year on year, and ticket orders for resorts related to ice and snow increased by nearly 40 percent from a year earlier.
In the Winter Olympics' host city Beijing, the number of searches for "ice and snow" and "skiing" on Mafengwo, a Chinese travel service and social-networking platform, increased by 215 percent during the Chinese New Year holiday. Meanwhile, in Wuhan, known as one of the country's "furnace cities", citizens had to wait for hours to experience skating on ice.
"After the Games kicked off, the number of people skating here has tripled, and the number of people signing for our training courses has doubled," said Wu Linli, rink manager of the Wuhan Ice Sports Center, which was repurposed from the Main Media Center of the 2019 World Military Games and reopened last May.
"We're also surprised to find that more and more companies begin to rent our rink as their team bonding venue. It's usually a once-a-month or once-half-a-year event, but they choose to learn skating together or play some games here on the ice," she told Xinhua.
According to the Wuhan Ice and Snow Sports Association, all eight rinks in Wuhan have seen the same trend. Moreover, data provided by western Hubei's Shennongjia Forestry District also showed that more than 70,000 trips were made to its ski resorts from February 1 as of now.
Nationwide, trips related to ice and snow tourism soared from 170 million in the 2016-2017 period to 254 million in the 2020-2021 period, and are forecast to reach 305 million during the 2021-2022 ice-snow tourism season, according to a report issued by the China Tourism Academy and Mafengwo.
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The main goal of every sports competition China has held is consistent - to involve more Chinese in sporting activities.
In 2015, China set a goal of engaging 300 million people in winter sports when Beijing won the Olympic bid. Since then, a boom in the construction of winter sports infrastructure emerged in China.
The country now has 654 standard ice rinks, a surge of 317 percent from 2015, and the number of ski resorts has risen from 568 in 2015 to 803 at present. And as of October 2021, over 346 million people, almost a quarter of China's population, have participated in winter sports or related activities.
"The fulfillment of the pledge is the most important legacy of Beijing 2022 to winter sports and Winter Olympics worldwide. It can be defined as the first gold medal of Beijing 2022," said Tu Xiaodong, publicity director of China's General Administration of Sport.
It has been 14 years since Beijing 2008. Looking back over the past decade, we may predict how Beijing 2022 will affect China in the long term.
"Beijing 2008 is truly a milestone. There is no doubt that China showed strong competitive sports strength. But more importantly, since then, the public has transformed enthusiasm for the Olympics into the motivation of keeping fit," recalled Wang.
"It may be hard to name every Olympic champion of Beijing 2008, but August 8 is a day deeply rooted in the hearts of Chinese people," said Wang, adding that the date marked the opening of Beijing Olympics, and after the Games, became the country's annual National Fitness Day.
According to Wang, Beijing 2008 has turned the "Fitness for All Initiative" from a slogan into a reality, with the construction of fitness facilities, the popularization of scientific fitness knowledge and various sports competitions held nationwide.
Nearly every residential community or school in China has at least one table tennis table, and other sports such as swimming, badminton and taekwondo also have hundreds of millions of participants.
"The positive effect of Beijing 2022 on mass participation in winter sports has yet to be fermented," he said.
"The Games have already sowed a seed in China. I believe in the near future, the number of people participating in ice and snow sports will reach 500 million or more, and winter sports will be an integral part of our lives."