Beijing stakes strong claim to host Winter Games snow events

Beijing stakes strong claim to host Winter Games snow events
A handout picture taken during the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic torch relay on December 13, 2013, and released by the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics Organizing Committee shows torchbearers 'kissing' with their torches to pass the Olympic flame in front of the Uralvagonzavod tank and railway car manufacturing plant and a monument to famous WWII-era Soviet T-34 tank (R) in Russia's industrial Urals city of Nizhny Tagil 1370 km (850 miles) east of Moscow. Russian torchbearers has started in October the history's longest Olympic torch relay ahead of February's Winter Games in Sochi, which will take the flame across the country through all 83 of its regions, including extreme locales such as Chukotka, the remote region in Russia's Far East, the turbulent North Caucasus, and even Russia's European exclave Kaliningrad.

Beijing's plans to host the 2022 Olympic Winter Games' snow events have impressed international skiing officials while assuaging concerns about its lack of snow sports facilities, the capital's bid committee said. Since Beijing launched its bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics in November, concern about the lack of a winter sports tradition, especially skiing events, in the Chinese capital and surrounding areas has emerged as a potential disadvantage for its bidding prospect.

However, Beijing's plan to stage skiing events in its northwest suburb and snowy co-host city of Zhangjiakou, in neighbouring Hebei province, has generated positive feedback from the International Ski Federation after its officials inspected the facilities and preparations.

"Officials from winter sports international federations who have visited Beijing and Zhangjiakou all gave us credit for the venue planning, events arrangements and overall preparation so far. Their thumbs-up feedback has boosted our confidence," said Zhao Yinggang, deputy secretary-general of the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games Bid Committee, at a recent media briefing.

From Nov 4 to 9, seven FIS officials of six different event commissions, including alpine, freestyle and cross-country skiing, visited Beijing's Yanqing district and Zhangjiakou's Chongli county to assess the natural terrain, existing facilities and venue planning for the 2022 bid.

Zhangjiakou welcomed its first snowfall of the winter during the officials' visit on Nov 7.

"We are very pleased with what we found. For hosting the Olympic Winter Games, it's more than a 'yes'," said Uwe Beier, the ski federation's snowboard race director, after examining facilities in Chongli county, about 220 km northwest of Beijing.

"It's a very promising terrain that has the potential to meet all the qualifications. It's actually a good location and very good terrain. It's almost there. It doesn't need that much before you could host the Olympics."

According to Beijing's bid plan, the majority of skiing events will be held in Chongli, which has developed into a popular skiing destination in North China, with four ski resorts and 90 high-standard skiing trails in operation.

A new venue for other snow sports, including alpine skiing, bobsledding and the skeleton, will be built in the mountain area of Yanqing county, 90 km northwest of downtown Beijing.

Joseph Fitzgerald, FIS freestyle coordinator, echoed Beier's sentiments, saying that project planning doesn't need significant changes but does require a few fixes.

"I looked to see if all the details of the international specifications were followed, and then we decided to say 'yes'. Still, there are some minor improvements needed, but everything looks good for having major competitions here."

Zhao, deputy secretary-general of the bid committee, said suggestions from the FIS inspecting crew were strictly over technical details like ski slope angles.

Since August, assessment teams representing six winter sports international federations, including ice hockey, skating, curling and skiing, have visited Beijing and Zhangjiakou, and four federations have offered written venue agreements for Beijing.

"Their agreements will be submitted to the International Olympic Committee as an important reference" for deciding the final host city, Zhao said.

Beijing and Zhangjiakou made the IOC's shortlist of candidate hosts in July, and now are competing head-on with the only other bidder, Almaty, the largest city and former capital of Kazakhstan. The IOC will decide who will host the 2022 Winter Olympics at the body's executive meeting in Malaysia in July, after visiting the candidate cities in March for a final assessment.

It's a very promising terrain that has the potential to meet all the qualifications. ... It doesn't need that much before you could host the Olympics."

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