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(PYEONGCHANG, South Korea) — With the Pyeongchang Olympics behind us, the winter sports world now directs its attention to Beijing in 2022.
Just 14 years after their memorable 2008 Summer Games, the Chinese capital will host the world again, becoming the first city to ever to host both the Summer and Winter Olympics.
Beijing was narrowly awarded the Winter Games in 2015 by only four votes over Almaty, Kazakhstan. At the time it was a surprising choice because China was not particularly known for winter sports and Beijing, while frigid in Winter, is not known for reliable snowfall. But what Beijing had was potential — and the power of the China market.
Mark Dreyer, who has closely followed the Chinese sports industry since 2007, told ABC News China was seen as a safe bet because Beijing has already pulled off a successful Summer Games.
“2008 was seen as China’s coming-out party on the world stage. That was a much bigger splash and bigger event,” said Dreyer, a Beijing-based sports journalist who runs ChinaSportsInsider.com. “So I think now it’s more interested in trying to grow the sports industry and the sports economy.”
In October 2014, in the runup to being awarded the Winter Games, China announced plans to grow its nascent domestic sports industry into the world’s biggest — worth $800 billion — by 2025.
Dreyer said Beijing was able to woo the International Olympic Committee, or the IOC, with the prospect of having 300 more participants in winter sports.
“Even if it’s a fraction of that, [China] could still revolutionize the winter global sports industry, which is not particularly big,” Dreyer added.
Another selling point Beijing 2022 had to offer was the potential to reduce the overall costs of the Games. In its proposal, the usually “spare-no-expense” Beijing vowed to budget the 2022 Games at a relatively paltry $3.9 billion. That’s far less than the $43 billion it spent on the 2008 Games, and even less than what was spent in Pyeongchang.
The final price tag for Pyeongchang was $14 billion, about double the $7 billion it was budgeted for, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.
The 2022 Games will also reuse many of the 2008 venues for the ice events in Beijing: the iconic the Bird’s Nest Stadium, where the opening and closing ceremonies were held; the Water Cube; and much of the existing Olympic Park and Olympic Village.
Beijing will actually be co-hosting the Winter Games with neighboring Zhangjiakou, which has a burgeoning ski town, Chongli, about 140 miles away.
The Beijing Winter Games will take place in three main event clusters: The Beijing cluster at the existing venues will play host to the ice and skating events; the Yanqing cluster in the outskirts of Beijing will host the luge, bobsleigh and alpine skiing events in the backdrop of the Great Wall; and the Zhangjiakou cluster will be home to the rest of the skiing and snowboarding events.
Beijing is also currently investing in an infrastructure boom. To cut down on travel time between clusters, the city is building a new dedicated high-speed rail with trains that will travel at speeds up to 217 miles per hour.
The normal three-hour travel time between Beijing and Zhangjiakou, for example, would only take 50 minutes.
In addition, Beijing is building what is being billed as the world’s largest international airport south of the city. The Zaha Hadid-designed airport is expected to be completed next year.
In 2008, China topped the gold medal tally, besting even the United States. China, however, only took home one gold in Pyeongchang, for the Men’s 500m short track speed skating.
It’s too early to say if China, not known as a winter sports powerhouse, will repeat its home field advantage.
“They’re not going to be able to compete with Norway’s, Canada’s and Germany’s of the world,” said Dreyer, “but I would be shocked if they didn’t have their best-ever Winter Games.”
A sample of China’s very vocal netizens seemed to agree on two popular online sports forums.
“Wu Dajing’s record-breaking gold medal in men’s 500m short track is really heartening. The Chinese athletes are really great no matter how unfair the judges are, gold just glitters. I hope winter sports become more and more popular in China, and I’m proud of the Chinese athletes,” user xrazr wrote on Tencent Sports BBS. “Go China, see you everyone four years later in the Beijing Winter Olympics!”
Another user, YangLaoJushi, wrote on Hupu BBS: “To think optimistically, we have not a few chances to win gold medals…basically for our Olympics, I feel like perhaps we can get at least six of them.”
Dreyer, meanwhile, predicted Beijing perform better in 2022 than it did in these last Games.
“They [are] definitely going to do much better than they [did] in South Korea. The home nation always does,” he told ABC News. “China, more than anyone, will really pull out all the stops. And the type of funding that China will be pumping in some of these [winter] sports is the envy of many other countries.
“So [China] really could haul itself up very very quickly,” Dreyer added. “Perhaps 2022 is going to come just a little bit too soon but they’re not going to embarrass themselves.”
Dreyer points out that China is putting a lot of funding into its ice hockey program and hiring North American coaches for its men’s and women’s Olympic teams.
“They’ve been talking about the ‘Beijing Miracle’ for 2022,” Dreyer said, referring the United States’ own ‘Miracle on Ice’ in 1980 when the American hockey team defeated the seemingly unbeatable Soviet team.
“That shows you the kind of ambition they have, to basically go from nobody on the world stage to potential medalists four years from now,” Dreyer said. “Which goes hand-in-hand with China’s ambitions everywhere else.”
And it so happens that Chinese President Xi Jinping was photographed this week encouraging a team of young hockey players to start preparing for 2022.
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