Big Air snowboarding is, as its name suggests, a spectacular event. But the backdrop for competition at the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games will add extra meaning. The world’s finest snowboarders will be flying down ramps set off the side of former vast 70m-plus cooling towers in the heart of Beijing’s former industrial district.
It is a major statement of both achievement and intent. Shougang’s entire steel-making complex – a city within a city – was relocated out of Beijing in the run-up to and immediate aftermath of Beijing 2008. City planners chose not to bulldoze the industrial park, but have instead taken on the difficult but rewarding task of urban regeneration.
Beijing 2022 has been at the very heart of this. First up, the Beijing 2022 Organising Committee moved its headquarters into some of Shougang’s converted iron ore storage towers in 2017. All around it, other relics from the industrial past are being similarly revamped to fit a healthier, more inclusive future. Elite athletes are some of those to have benefitted first from the city’s ambitious plans.
“The (short track speed skating) venue is very well built. It is a state of the art training venue,” China’s Wu Dajing, winner of the 500m short track speed skating gold medal at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games, said. “I heard about it (the new training centre) when construction first started at the Shougang park. At that time, I was full of dreams about the venue. I always dreamed about what the venue should look like, but when I came here, I found out that it was actually different from what I imagined. In fact, it is much better than I expected.”
The 23 year old, who won silver at PyeongChang 2018 in the 5000m relay and silver and bronze at the Sochi 2014 Games, is firmly focused on his home Games in three-and-a-half years’ time. But short track speed skaters are not the only ones to benefit, with curlers, ice hockey players and figure skaters all gaining access to new top-notch facilities in Shougang.
“We have just entered the Shougang training venues this year,” said Zhao Yang, coach to China’s 16-year-old figure skater Chen Hongyi. “We can see that the venue is very modern. The ice surface, temperature, and humidity are particularly good. I think it is the best ice-skating venue. I think that athletes benefiting from such good training conditions is a strong guarantee of good results, it is of great help to the athletes.”
His athlete agrees.
“The training venues and conditions were not particularly good in the past,” Chen, the current world number 10 for her age group, said. “But now Shougang has two venues, and will likely build even more venues. There are even professional dance rooms as well as exercise rooms. The environment and facilities here are very good. This helps to improve my skills a great deal.”
As part of the mission to leverage the 2022 Games to introduce 300 million Chinese residents to winter sports, there are plans for further sports leisure facilities to take shape among Shougang’s 100-plus smoke stacks. Additional plans for the Shougang district, which is a pilot project for the reformation of antiquated industrial zones across China, will include offices for multiple companies, a museum, a conference center, an innovation business complex, a waterpark, and a waterfront music stage.
Spectators from 2008 returning to the city will notice a big difference in some ways, although several aspects will remain remarkably familiar. Among the 13 competition and non-competition venues planned for the Beijing Zone in 2022, eight are legacies from the previous Games.
But nowhere will sum up Beijing’s urban regeneration progress better than the venue for the Big Air.
“I can tell you it is a really spectacular venue,” IOC president Thomas Bach said when the Shougang proposal was ratified by the Committee’s Executive Board last year. “For me, from an architectural point of view, it is interesting. If you have the opportunity to see it, don’t miss it.”