Beijing is ramping up its bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics with a series of international sports competitions and promotional events, seeking to stir public support and cement its status as the front-runner to hold the games.
The freestyle skiing World Cup event in Beijing's Bird's Nest stadium this weekend will be the first of six winter sports competitions in the capital city and Shanghai, bid organizers said Thursday. Skating events make up most of the remainder.
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Another six activities are being held to rev up interest in the Olympic bid among the public, including a mass participation event on world skiing day in January, said Zhao Yinggang, the sports ministry's head of winter sports.
"An important part of the bidding process is to seize the opportunity that provides to promote the development of winter sports in China and spread their popularity," Zhao told reporters.
Beijing, which hosted the 2008 Olympics, is seeking to become the first city to host both the summer and winter games. Indoor events will be held within the city, while skiing and other outdoor sports will be based in suburban Yanqing and in Zhangjikou in neighboring Hebei province.
Originally considered a long-shot, Beijing is now in a two-city race to host the games with Almaty, Kazakhstan, following the withdrawal of a number of potential bidders.
That's despite the fact that Beijing and the surrounding bone-dry mountains receive little snow and suffer chronic air pollution. Beijing can boast of a number of already existing venues, strong public support — and plenty of money. The bid committee hasn't publicized a proposed budget for the games, but an official this month said they would be "very economical."
And while China doesn't have a strong winter sports culture, public participation in skiing and other events is growing fast along with rising incomes and increased travel. Ice hockey in particular has become a favorite of Beijing's upper middle class, with parents forking over handsome sums for coaching, equipment and rink time.
China has also become a force at recent Winter Games in figure skating, short-track and speed skating and freestyle skiing, winning nine medals at the Sochi Olympics this year.