Beijing Winter Olympics showcases competitive spirit and green future
China Daily

Cross-country Skiing — Men's team short distance, Beijing Winter Olympics. (Photo: Xinhua)

In seemingly the blink of an eye, the Beijing Winter Olympics is already a mere few days from the conclusion. Since the Games opened in yet another spectacular ceremony on a par with 2008, the sporting events have unfolded daily before my eyes thanks to our brand new giant screen in the iChongqing office.

As with past editions of the Winter Olympics, the limits of physical endurance, effortless grace of athletes on ice and snow, magnanimous spirit in competition, death-defying ski jumps, tactical prowess in curling, and daredevil speeds in the luge never fail to instill a sense of awe. This feeling is also blended with admiration for their feats at such a precocious age, many of them less than half my age now.

While the Olympians naturally stand in the limelight, the unbelievable preparations that have gone into new venues, the renovation of facilities that graced the 2008 Beijing Olympics, closed management that has provided athletes with a safe environment, the tidal wave of popularity enjoyed by the mascot Bing Dwen Dwen, and green technology that has made for the first-ever carbon neutral Winter Olympics, now bare testimony to the dedication and long term planning of organizers behind the scenes.

The sporting career that never was

Glancing at the medal table for the Beijing Winter Olympics, I see the UK is yet to record a medal success, while countries we more generally associate with winter sports like Norway, the USA, Canada, and Switzerland have continued to dominate. Had we been endowed with a more snowy climate and higher mountains close to home, I imagine the UK would naturally rank higher like any other nation with the right conditions.

In my case, a theoretical career in winter sports ended well before it ever began. As a youngster growing up in central England, I recall a term at high school when we learned some basic skills at an artificial ski center in Swadlingcote, but the lack of regular contact with snow and ice, as well as horror stories of unfortunate souls breaking legs and knee joints on Alpine ski trips ultimately eroded my motivation to learn myself.

Later, during a four-year stint in South Korea, I tried my hand at snowboarding on a weekend trip to Pyeongchang, which incidentally held the previous Winter Olympics. This time, I quickly mastered the basics on a gentle beginner’s slope, which gave me the unfounded confidence to ride the ski lift up onto the mountainside and try out the intermediate track.

To cut a long story and blushes short, I found it impossible to slow down on the turns and steep sections and eventually had to wave the flag by collapsing into a desperate heap by the wayside.

Fortunately, a concerned passerby must have alerted the resort to my predicament, and it was a welcome sight when a friendly skiing coach turned up with a buggy and took me back down. Needless to say, for me, that was the last time I ever seriously attempted to ski again.

Bearing these personal memories and experiences in mind, I have watched the proceedings in Beijing with an even greater admiration for the athletes, albeit with a slight touch of envy that winter sports were never destined for me.

Clean energy showcased to the world

An eye-catching feature of the Beijing Winter Olympics has been the showcase of a carbon-neutral event driven by green technology, which has been reflected through entire fleets of clean energy vehicles, new refrigeration technology, and the foresight behind re-purposed venues remaining from the 2008 Summer Olympics.

For example, six venues from the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics have been re-purposed as opposed to having new buildings constructed, such as the ‘Water Cube,’ which hosted the curling events with ice produced through carbon dioxide refrigeration, bringing energy savings of around thirty percent.

Another impressive feat is the number of hydrogen-fueled and electric vehicles that are providing transportation during the Games and will help lay the foundations for a sustainable low carbon future, as the vehicles and infrastructure will remain in place long after the Winter Olympics are finished.

While I am yet to ride in a hydrogen-fueled vehicle for myself, my experience with electric vehicles in Chongqing and Hainan has been quite an eye-opener. For most of my life, clean energy vehicles have been the preserve of futuristic television documentaries, even when they began cruising the streets in China with their eye-catching fluorescent green license plates.

However, this new technology has become an everyday reality in just the past year or so, as all of a sudden, they have become all the rage with high profile dealerships setting up in commercial malls, taxi firms that use solely electric vehicles, and while surging ownership means that virtually every other car on the road now in Chongqing is an EV.

While I hear that electric vehicles are slowly gaining popularity back home in the United Kingdom, the most common complaint I hear from enthusiastic drivers online is the lack of supporting infrastructure, particularly the number of functional charge piles located within a reasonable distance.

This is certainly not such an issue in Chongqing, and I fully expect the same applies throughout the major cities nationwide. There are car parks near my home that offer a charging pile for every space, and even next door to me, a small enterprise has developed a small piece of land where drivers can leave their vehicles on charge overnight.

In fact, the infrastructure has become so dependable that electric vehicle owners are confident enough to drive them thousands of miles across the entire country.

Another recent eye-opening experience for me was Ocean Flower Island in the Chinese tropical paradise that is Hainan, perhaps my second favorite location after Chongqing. This brand new resort built on reclaimed land has also modeled itself on clean energy, and the only vehicles to be seen on the roads here are electrically powered buggies, cars, and even full-size passenger coaches.

Ocean Flower Island is a USD 24 billion artificial archipelagoes made up of three main islets linked to each other and the mainland through bridges. The flower-shaped central island features a complete range of amusement and recreational facilities, while the two outer islands are home to private villas and apartment complexes on sale to the public. Since the attraction first opened in 2020, it has attracted over 5 million visitors from all over the country.

Some readers abroad might possibly know of Ocean Flower Island from news concerning the planned demolition of 39 apartment blocks on Island Two, which were built on reclaimed land by the Chinese real estate giant Evergrande Group, and for which planning permission was originally granted in violation of environmental protection laws.

I can say from personal experience in daily life that the rate of the progress China has achieved in clean energy, as well as the level of consumer acceptance, has been truly astonishing for me, and the benefits go far beyond the goals of carbon neutrality. As I strolled the palm-lined avenues of Ocean Flower Island, it felt great to banish past memories of smoke bellowing public buses and brute engine noise tearing through an otherwise scene of tranquility.

For me, the Beijing Winter Olympics has created a wonderful showcase for clean energy vehicles for the international audience to behold, and demonstrates how they are not only possible but also highly practical and cost-effective. Having paid much attention to this aspect behind all the winter sports action, I hope that more nations will be inspired to carry through this transformation, as well as to embrace this development at heart and make the change.

Personal questions of citizenship

There have been some cases of unwarranted criticism among segments of international society, and one in particular that feels close to heart is the success of Eileen Gu, who won gold in Freestyle Skiing, and as I write today, has added to her tally with a silver medal in the Women’s Slopestyle.

For those who might be unaware, she was born to a Chinese mother and American father in 2003, and held an American passport until she made the decision to represent China at the Beijing Winter Olympics. While this does involve rescinding one’s previous nationality, there has been some vital context overlooked by the international media which I believe could help dispel malicious criticisms aimed at her.

I have two daughters with a Chinese wife here in Chongqing, and while the first has British citizenship, we decided on Chinese nationality for our second based on the practical considerations of everyday life here, such as registering for schools and medical care, which is far more easily done with a Chinese ID number.

Besides, the incredible social and economic development has meant the appeal of foreign citizenship has diminished in comparison to just a decade or two ago. While my wife and family once entertained the idea of her taking a UK passport, neither of us now see this as a beneficial move.

As they are both still under the age of 18, my first lives in Chongqing visa free under the ‘Conflict of Citizenship’ rule, as China does not recognize dual nationality. This only makes a big practical difference when leaving the country, as she applies for an entry-exit permit instead of using her UK passport. When she is 18 years old, it is possible she could make a similar decision to Eileen Gu, while my second daughter will always have the option of British citizenship through descent.

In the case of Eileen, I wish to emphasize this context behind her perceived ‘shift in allegiance,’ which has predictively fueled certain parties aiming to politicize the issue and sow discord. From my perspective, it’s unwarranted to portray her decision as a matter of rejection towards, but rather a personal choice face this decision when they come of age.

For a child who grows up in China with a foreign passport, it doesn’t seem unnatural to me they may choose a similar path according to their personal situation and how they view themselves in the future. I personally know a good few international families in Chongqing, and I expect the

On a final note, her rise to national stardom just a few days ago has really taken me aback. I had never really noticed Eileen before my mother-in-law shared a Chinese news link about her gold medal, but now I see her image in advertisements on almost a daily basis out and about in Chongqing! Now she is a household name in China, I wish her every success in her sporting career.

The cute panda mascot captures the imagination

The final highlight I would like to end on is the unforgettable panda mascot for the Beijing Winter Olympics. Bing Dwen Dwen has been absolutely propelled to nationwide fame, so much so that the supply for official souvenirs has fallen well short of demand, and a lucrative counterfeit market even emerged that intellectual property authorities have scrambled to curb.

Bing Dwen Dwen was designed by a team from the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts and combined many interesting features on top of being the quintessential symbol for China, a cute panda that everybody loves.

The colored band around his eyes represents the Speed Skating Arena in Beijing but also symbolizes a future through 5G technology. His face visor resembles the headgear worn by winter sports enthusiasts but also makes him look like a spaceman, which signifies the technological advances that China has made in recent years.

The name ‘Bing Dwen Dwen’ itself is an ingenious combination of the Chinese words for ice and ‘Dwen,’ which can mean ‘stone block,’ for which inspiration was taken from the unshakeable determination of athletes.

For me, I love the design of Bing Dwen Dwen and am eagerly waiting for the day I can either buy one or have the fortune to receive one as a gift.

Finally, as the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics draws to a conclusion, we still have the excitement and glamour of the closing ceremony to look forward to, while the Paralympics are due to start a fortnight later. When the time comes, let’s see if the next mascot in a store called ‘Shuey Rhon Rhon, themed on a heartwarming snowy Chinese lantern with traditional patterns, becomes yet another top hit!