Reporting from Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre in Malaysia – In the race between Almaty and Beijing to host the 2022 Olympic Winter Games, critics point to China’s lack of Winter sports participation and culture as a legacy concern. Beijing plans to build ski jumps, a cross country and biathlon venues and downhill ski runs claiming that they are necessary to build the winter sports industry in the region.
Almaty, after hosting the 2011 Asian Winter games, already has a legacy and winter sports are thriving in Kazakhstan.
To try to address the question of whether China can be a winter sport nation, on Wednesday Beijing presented two sport ambassadors, NBA basketball star Yao Ming who was instrumental in making basketball relevant across China, and ice hockey rising star Andong Song who was the 172nd overall draft pick by the NHL’s New York Islanders.
As the first Chinese-born player to be drafted by the hockey league, Song believes he can inspire a generation in China to embrace the sport, just like Ming did with his sport – and with the help of the Olympic Winter Games.
He said the Games at home will make the dreams of aspiring hockey players “realistic and achievable” since they can witness it close by.
What City would like to see host the 2022 Olympic Winter Games?
- Almaty (80%)
- Beijing (20%)
Once his hockey skills were identified as a youngster in Beijing, Song’s family moved to Canada so he could further develop and train in a Toronto suburb, then later he moved to New Jersey to attend a prep school. Beijing wants these Games so that Winter sports facilities and expertise can be developed in China, and the athletes can stay and train at home.
Though hockey is developing in China with rinks and teams popping up at an increasing rate, there is still a long way to go. During the IOC Evaluation Commission visit in March and while visiting the Mastercard Centre, the proposed ice hockey venue that hosted Olympic basketball in 2008, the the venue “expert” did not understand the term Zamboni, the popular ice surfacing machine seen at hockey games around the world. Much training will be required before Beijing is winter sports ready.
Also on Wednesday Almaty showcased young athletes Denis Ten, a Sochi 2014 bronze medal figure skater, and Youth Olympic Games figure skate Karina Uzurova demonstrating that even as a new, small nation Kazakhstan is working hard to develop talent. Ten credited his success to the development of ice facilities at home after he first started training in a local shopping mall when that was the only ice surface available. He believes that an Olympics will inspire more athletes and provide world-class facilities to compete.
Ten said Winter sports are increasingly popular in Almaty – almost too popular he complained as he said that he often cannot skate at the popular Medeu public ice rink because it is too crowded with recreational skaters. Medeu is the proposed venue for speed skating in 2022.
Kazakhstan has participated in six Olympic Winter Games as a nation winning seven medals in total including one gold. China has competed in 10 Games with 53 total medals including 12 gold.
On Friday, when the IOC cast their ballots to elect the 2022 Olympic Winter Games host, they’ll have to decide whether they’ll try to jump-start winter sports in China or help fuel and develop the existing culture in Kazakhstan.