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Why did the Winter Olympics go to Beijing?

The bleak, snowless landscape (aside from the fake stuff) that begs the question: Why did the Winter Olympics go to Beijing?

  • A ski center near Beijing, which will host the Winter Olympics, has had just 2cm of snow between January and March 2021
  • Photos also show a new national ski jumping center amid a landscape of dry brown hills
  • About 300 snow cannons using 49 million gallons of water will be used to create artificial snow for the events

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Did you hear the one about the Winter Olympics without snow? If anything sums up the bewilderment over China’s controversial £2.5bn Games set to kick off in just under three weeks, it might be the absence of the only element central to the event.

A telling statistic is that between January and March last year, the competition site at the National Alpine Ski Center in Yanqing, about 80 kilometers northwest of the capital Beijing, had only 2cm of snow, less than London – or Madrid.

And photos of the locations tell their own story. The new national ski jumping center is certainly impressive – but illogically lies in an arid landscape of dirty brown hills. It’s hardly alpine.

The National Ski Jumping Center, a venue of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, in Zhangjiakou, Hebei Province, China, pictured last November

The National Ski Jumping Center, a venue of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, in Zhangjiakou, Hebei Province, China, pictured last November

Yanqing Alpine Skiing Center, about 80 kilometers northwest of the capital Beijing, earlier this month.  The site only had 2cm of snow between January and March last year

Yanqing Alpine Skiing Center, about 80 kilometers northwest of the capital Beijing, earlier this month.  The site only had 2cm of snow between January and March last year

Yanqing Alpine Skiing Center, about 80 kilometers northwest of the capital Beijing, earlier this month. The site only had 2cm of snow between January and March last year

As for the snowboarding ramp, it’s built in the heart of the city’s concrete-clad industrial area, overlooked by the huge former cooling towers of an old steel mill.

Questionable decisions by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in awarding the Games are nothing new.

Neither does artificial snow, which has often been used to fill slopes since the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York.

For the 2014 Games in the subtropical Russian resort of Sochi, 80 percent of the snow was fake.

But Yanqing, which is home to downhill skiing, bobsleigh, luge and skeleton, will take the fake white stuff to new extremes. Using 49 million gallons of water, 300 snow cannons will cover the competition surfaces – despite the regular water shortages suffered by China’s parched capital.

Earlier this month, an employee sets up an installation featuring Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics mascot, Bing Dwen Dwen, and Shuey Rhon Rhon, the mascot of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics

Earlier this month, an employee sets up an installation featuring Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics mascot, Bing Dwen Dwen, and Shuey Rhon Rhon, the mascot of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics

Earlier this month, an employee sets up an installation featuring Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics mascot, Bing Dwen Dwen, and Shuey Rhon Rhon, the mascot of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics

Snow cannons pictured at Big Air Shougang, a competition venue for freestyle skiing and snowboarding at this year's Winter Olympics last month

Snow cannons pictured at Big Air Shougang, a competition venue for freestyle skiing and snowboarding at this year's Winter Olympics last month

Snow cannons pictured at Big Air Shougang, a competition venue for freestyle skiing and snowboarding at this year’s Winter Olympics last month

A snow cannon works its magic at Genting Snow Park in preparation for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics at venues in Zhangjiakou, Hebei Province, last month

A snow cannon works its magic at Genting Snow Park in preparation for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics at venues in Zhangjiakou, Hebei Province, last month

A snow cannon works its magic at Genting Snow Park in preparation for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics at venues in Zhangjiakou, Hebei Province, last month

The athletes seem less concerned. “The snow will be comparable to Russia and comparable to PyeongChang at the 2018 Olympics. They both had partial artificial snow,” said Charlotte Bankes, a snowboardcross racer and Britain’s best shot at a gold medal at the Games.

“As riders we have to adapt, but we’ve all been through it before.”

A bigger concern will be what could happen if a competitor speaks out against its host’s human rights record.

Earlier this month, an employee is responsible for the Chinese knot installation on the theme of the Winter Olympics in Beijing's Tiananmen Square

Earlier this month, an employee is responsible for the Chinese knot installation on the theme of the Winter Olympics in Beijing's Tiananmen Square

Earlier this month, an employee is responsible for the Chinese knot installation on the theme of the Winter Olympics in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square

Big Air Shougang, a competition venue for freestyle skiing and snowboarding during this year's Winter Olympics, is pictured in Beijing earlier this month

Big Air Shougang, a competition venue for freestyle skiing and snowboarding during this year's Winter Olympics, is pictured in Beijing earlier this month

Big Air Shougang, a competition venue for freestyle skiing and snowboarding during this year’s Winter Olympics, is pictured in Beijing earlier this month

The diplomatic boycott by Britain and the US has embarrassed the Chinese and it is unclear how they will respond to any activism.

But the IOC and its president Thomas Bach prefer to avoid that debate, citing the political neutrality of their movement – ​​much to the frustration of activists.

Human Rights Watch says China wants to ‘sport wash’ its human rights record.

A spokesman said: “These Winter Games reflect President Xi Jinping’s efforts to polish China’s image on the world stage and divert attention from the Chinese government’s attack on human rights targeting independent civil society, erasing of press freedom and expanding high-tech surveillance.’

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