The Wukesong Sports Centre was designed and built for the 2008 Beijing Games. With its instantly recognisable exterior, which can be lit up in an array of different colours at night, the arena came to life 10 years ago with the Olympic men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. It played host to the pulsating first-round match between the USA and China, before staging one of the greatest men’s finals in the history of the Games – an unforgettable clash of the titans between the USA and Spain, in which the team led by LeBron James and Kobe Bryant clinched a 118-107 victory. Their female compatriots defeated Australia 92-65 in the women’s final.
After the Summer Games, the Olympic baseball field in front of the arena was redeveloped into a basketball theme park, complete with a shopping centre and restaurants. The area has become an important part of the Beijing 2008 legacy, providing locals with a recreational zone where they can enjoy cultural events and large-scale concerts.
In 2015, work began on the arena to install an ice rink – which can be converted back into a basketball court in under six hours – and in September 2016 the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL)’s Chinese franchise Kunlun Red Star played its first ever match there. The Wukesong Sports Centre was therefore a natural choice to stage the Beijing 2022 men’s and women’s ice hockey tournaments.
The arena is one of several 2008 Summer Games venues – along with the Bird’s Nest (Opening and Closing Ceremonies), Water Cube (curling) and National Indoor Stadium (second ice hockey rink), all of which were located in the Olympic Park in 2008, and the Capital Indoor Stadium, an older venue which was renovated for 2008 and which will host the figure skating and short track events – that are being repurposed or reused for the Winter Games, with the Chinese capital set to become the first ever city to have hosted both the Olympic Summer and Winter Games.
The ideal venue for ice hockey clashes
The Head of Technical Operations at the Wukesong Sports Centre, Han Lifen, explains proudly that she is a “two-time Olympic person”, having taken up her role in May 2008, ahead of the Summer Games, and remained in the same position for the next 10 years, at an arena that stages “more than 100 events per year”. She also points out that an underground cooling system was installed when the venue was built. Gui Xin, Manager of the Planning and Construction Department for the 2022 Winter Games, explains: “Wukesong was not chosen solely because it is a multipurpose arena, but also because it already had everything that was needed to host ice hockey matches. Of all the Beijing 2022 venues, this arena leads the way in terms of innovation and preparation.”
“Beijing 2022 has reignited my Olympic passion,” adds Han. “I’m proud that I will have worked twice for the Games. It’s a unique opportunity. I could never have imagined that I’d get a second chance at it. This experience is becoming a part of who I am; it will stay with me my whole life. I’m sure that the Beijing 2022 Winter Games will be absolutely incredible.”