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China uses Beijing Olympics to push winter sports boom: NPR

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China uses Beijing Olympics to push winter sports boom: NPR

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A child practices ice hockey near the Beijing Olympic Tower in Beijing, China, Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022.

Ng Han Guan/AP


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China uses Beijing Olympics to push winter sports boom: NPR

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A child practices ice hockey near the Beijing Olympic Tower in Beijing, China, Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022.

Ng Han Guan/AP

BEIJING (AP) — Holding his skis next to a rabbit trail, Li Wei gets excited about his winter job as a farmer-turned-ski coach on the northwest outskirts of Beijing.

The tall, tanned 36-year-old works from December to March at a resort town in Yanqing district, which will host skiing, luge and other sliding events at the Winter Olympics, which open this week next.

The ruling Communist Party uses the Games to promote winter sports, many of which are new to most Chinese, for fitness and business opportunities.

Skiing “raised my income to another level,” said Li, who charges 400 to 500 yuan ($60 to $80) per lesson, almost as much as her family earns in a week growing corn during the cooler months. hotter. He also finds skiing to be relaxing.

“After a few slides on the middle slope, all my worries disappeared,” he said.

Many Beijing residents have long enjoyed ice skating in winter on canals and lakes. But now young Chinese are extending their aspirations from basketball, soccer and gymnastics to sports like hockey and skiing.

The government and private companies have built skating rinks and ski slopes. Public schools add skating and other winter sports. Parents open their wallets to pay for hockey teams and skating lessons. The villages close to the ski slopes build inns to serve well-to-do tourists.

“I want to be an ice hockey player in the future,” said Guo Yuchen, 8, who started the sport aged 4 and trains seven hours a week at an ice rink in Beijing. “Then I can bring glory to my country.”

Wu Mengkai, 11, said hockey made him more outgoing and “very sunny”.

“You can’t be introverted when playing ice hockey,” Wu said. “You have to be brave enough to fight.”

Leading up to the Winter Olympics has set those trends in motion, said Mark Dreyer, author of the book “Sporting Superpower: An Insider’s View on China’s Quest to Be the Best.”

China uses Beijing Olympics to push winter sports boom: NPR

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School children learning to ski make their way to the slope at Vanke Shijinglong Ski Resort in Yanqing, on the outskirts of Beijing, China, Thursday, Dec. 23, 2021.

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China uses Beijing Olympics to push winter sports boom: NPR

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School children learning to ski make their way to the slope at Vanke Shijinglong Ski Resort in Yanqing, on the outskirts of Beijing, China, Thursday, Dec. 23, 2021.

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“We’ve also seen a more organic push from the Chinese middle class, recognizing the value of sport not just for their children, but for themselves,” Dreyer said.

The Winter Games will be held without foreign tourists or ordinary spectators as part of China’s “zero tolerance” strategy to keep the virus out of the country. Athletes, journalists and officials are required to stay in areas that isolate them from the general public.

Some 106 of the 3,695 people who have arrived from overseas for the Games so far have tested positive for coronavirus. Two are athletes or team officials.

The Chinese capital has tightened anti-virus measures and ordered mass testing of some 2 million people in one district following outbreaks. Some families are not allowed to leave their homes.

Foreign sports brands see growth opportunities in China but are frustrated that marketing and business development are hampered by anti-virus controls and the ban on most foreigners entering China.

“It kinda messed things up a bit,” said Jeffrey Potter, president of Proskatecorner Pte. Ltd., the Chinese distributor of American hockey equipment manufacturer True.

Without the virus, the marketing boost from the Olympics would have been bigger, really helping the economy and making hockey more popular, Potter said in a videoconference interview from Toronto.

At Vanke Shijinglong Ski Resort, where Li teaches, visitor Long Xuelian said she fell in love with skiing on her first try despite many falls.

“More and more of my friends know how to ski,” said Long, who was taking a break from skiing and chatting with her friend.

China uses Beijing Olympics to push winter sports boom: NPR

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A skier gestures to others, one wearing a suit with the characters reading “China”, on the slope of Vanke Shijinglong Ski Resort in Yanqing, on the outskirts of Beijing, China, Thursday, Dec. 23, 2021.

Ng Han Guan/AP


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Ng Han Guan/AP

China uses Beijing Olympics to push winter sports boom: NPR

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A skier gestures to others, one wearing a suit with the characters reading “China”, on the slope of Vanke Shijinglong Ski Resort in Yanqing, on the outskirts of Beijing, China, Thursday, Dec. 23, 2021.

Ng Han Guan/AP

The number of visitors to the resort has increased by 15% to 20% per year since Beijing and its neighbor Zhangjiakou won the Winter Games in 2015, according to its marketing director, Liu Yingkai. Liu said the numbers had increased by 40% in the past year, even with the pandemic.

Zhang Xiaodong grew up in Zhangjiakou but never learned to ski, so he took up the sport as an adult. “I have to learn to ski, so the next time I bring my child here, I will know how to teach him,” said the computer engineer.

At least 8,000 people in Beijing are part of hockey teams, Xing He, deputy general secretary of the Beijing Ice Hockey Association, was quoted by the Communist Party People’s Daily.

“Games are being held more frequently and school teams come here to practice,” said Wang Yuming, general manager of Star Hong-ao Ice Sports in western Beijing.

Across the country, more than 450 ice rinks and 300 ski resorts have been built since 2015, although some have sometimes closed during the pandemic, said Li Sen, director of the general planning department of the Olympic Games organizing committee. Beijing.

Skiing and other sports have given an economic boost to the villages near the resorts.

“For tourists to eat, there must be restaurants nearby,” said Jiang Xinwei of Analysys International, a research firm in Beijing.

Houheilong Miao, a village in Yanqing, has a view of the Olympic ski venue in the distance. Its 20 traditional courtyard houses, mostly vacant, have been converted into living quarters and a café dubbed the “Winter Olympic House”.

Wang Haifang, a mother of two, is among local residents hired to work as baristas, butlers and cleaners. She was pleased to see the once dilapidated village cleaned up like modern urban areas in Beijing.

“Last year, everything fell into place,” she said.

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Associated Press video producers Olivia Zhang and Caroline Chen contributed.

China uses Beijing Olympics to push winter sports boom: NPR

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