Winter Olympics ignite Chinese passion for ice, snow sports
BEIJING -- Supported by two thin blades of metal, 10-year-old Wu Mohan flies around the slick ice, holding her audience spellbound with her steps, spins and jumps.
"I fell in love with figure skating over three years ago. It's trendy and very beautiful," the fourth-grader said while taking a break from the high-intensity sport at Mengqiyuan Ice Rink in Beijing's Yanqing District, where several Winter Olympics events will be held next week.
Wu's mother Yang Yan, like many Chinese parents, hopes winter sports such as figure skating will help her daughter "gain endurance and a strong physique."
Wu is a small part of a big drive championed by President Xi Jinping to get 300 million Chinese people involved in winter sports.
The primary goal of staging the Winter Olympics in China is to "engage 300 million people in ice-snow sports" and promote the leapfrog development of winter sports in the country, Xi told International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach in Sochi, Russia, in 2014.
Xi has attached great importance to issues related to ice-snow sports. To advance preparation work for the 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, he conducted several inspection tours of Beijing and the adjacent Hebei Province, and met with athletes, construction workers and venue operators.
The enthusiasm brought about by Beijing 2022 should be maintained to promote the sustainable development of winter sports at both elite and grassroots levels, he said during his inspection of preparatory work in early January.
The Chinese government has released a raft of policies to facilitate the construction of winter sports venues, popularize ice-snow sports on campuses and enhance amateur training at the grassroots level.
The country has carried out its promise of riding high on the upcoming Games to blaze ahead with its relatively underdeveloped ice-snow sports infrastructure.
As of last October, around 346 million people -- about a quarter of the country's population -- have participated in ice-snow sports since China's successful bid to host the Winter Olympics, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.
China's fulfillment of its pledge to engage 300 million people in winter sports was praised by Bach, who described it as an "unprecedented, great achievement," and said it will become an important legacy of Beijing 2022 for the Chinese people and for the Olympic Movement.
Public enthusiasm for ice-snow sports has gone hand-in-hand with China's large-scale construction of winter sports facilities over the years. By early 2021, China boasted 654 standard ice rinks, an increase of 317 percent from 2015. The number of indoor and outdoor ski resorts had reached 803, up 41 percent compared with 2015.
The staggering rise benefited from the burgeoning development and promotion of ice-snow sports across the country.
Boasting mountainous landscapes and long snowy seasons, Tibet and Xinjiang, two autonomous regions located in western China, have been drumming up winter tourism to turn themselves into winter sports hubs.
Fifty venues for multiple winter sports including skating, skiing and ice hockey were built in east China's Shanghai, and another 25 were registered in its neighboring Zhejiang Province.
That reach is even extending to southern parts of China that experience mild winters. Sunac Snow Park in the southern metropolis of Guangzhou has received more than 2 million visitors since it began operations in 2019. An ice and snow culture festival is also being held in this subtropical city.
Li Yixian, a 12-year-old ice hockey enthusiast who has nine years of experience in the sport, used to fly from southwest China's Sichuan Province to northeast China for professional training in every summer and winter break. "The only way for me to play in the games was to see what position was missing on their ice hockey team," Li said.
Recent years saw a turnaround as his hometown began building more and more standard ice rinks and attracting professional coaches to settle down there. Nowadays, Li can savor the joys of ice hockey at his doorstep. "I hope I can play in Olympics one day and represent my country," he said.
The great market potential of the ice and snow industry has also created a new business boom. The Chinese government is aiming for the industry to be worth 1 trillion yuan (about 157.2 billion U.S. dollars) by 2025.
A long-time sports fan, Xi once pointed out that sports are an important means to improve people's health, meet people's aspirations for better lives, and facilitate well-rounded human development.
"The ultimate goal of building a sporting powerhouse and a healthy China is to strengthen the people's fitness, which is also an essential part of China's endeavors to build a modern socialist country in all respects," the president said.
With just days to go, the global spotlight will again shine on Beijing -- the world's first city to host both the Summer and Winter Olympics.
"The world is turning its eyes to China," Xi said in his New Year address. "China is ready."