Beijing Olympics: snowboards in the city

It’s a surreal atmosphere, as China has accustomed us to since the beginning of these atypical Olympic Games. A ramp of artificial snow, placed in the middle of a fallow industrial zone, guarded by police and Chinese soldiers.

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Blast furnaces with rusty shells, remnants of brick buildings, long slender chimneys that tend towards the sky… It is on the site of Shougang, in the suburbs of Beijing, that the “big air” events are held. , these great acrobatic jumps on skis and snowboards, the latest disciplines added to the Winter Games (2018 for snowboarding, 2022 for skiing).

“A Dystopia”

The 60-meter-high ski jump is surrounded by four large cooling towers, one of which is flocked with the Olympic rings. Inaugurated in 2019, the installation is intended to be permanent. “It’s a pretty crazy place. When you contemplate it from up there, it looks like a dystopia, it’s like being in Star Wars », smiles Zoi Sadowski-Synnot after his second place in big air snowboarding, Tuesday, February 15. “But it’s more of a good way to convert a factory,” adds the young New Zealander.

Because Shougang is a former steelworks, built from 1919. It employed tens of thousands of workers and was the symbol of the modernization of the country, at the same time as it generated intense pollution. As the 2008 Summer Games approached, the government decided to close it to reduce air pollution in the capital, and moved it to another province.

“A kind of legacy”

The organizers highlight the site as an example of conversion. The setting has been preserved and the district now hosts tertiary activities, green spaces and sports sites. Xiaofei, 28, has seen the place change over time. She grew up in the area, before applying to work there as a volunteer at the Games. She recounts her pride in seeing the place reused in this way: “You can’t find an industry like that in the middle of the city anymore, we wanted to keep our footsteps and reconvert the district, it’s a kind of heritage. Today, there are hotels, restaurants, and even an exhibition center built underwater! »

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On the sports side, surprise sometimes mixes with enthusiasm. “It’s a pretty crazy backdrop, but it’s the best big air in town on the circuit. He didn’t climb on scaffolding, the track is long, and we have two lifts to get to the top! », list Tess Coady, 21-year-old Australian snowboarder. The winner of the day, the Austrian Anna Gasser, admits, on the contrary, having a preference for “nature, the mountain”, but wants to see the positive: “If it helps our sport, and it reaches people in the city who wouldn’t otherwise be able to access it, so much the better! »

Popular ardor

In any case, it was in Shougang that you had to be this Tuesday to find a form of popular enthusiasm, very often absent from other Olympic sites. Under climatic conditions much less hostile than in the mountains (sunshine and -6°C), the snowboarders perform acrobatics, noted by judges, in front of hundreds of guests in the stands and hundreds of journalists. The spectators, “Beijing 2022” sunglasses on their noses, wave flags and sometimes give voice.

At the start of the afternoon, the clamor grew louder, triggered by a local kid: the Chinese Su Yiming, only 17, won the gold medal in the big air, a week after the silver in the slopestyle. . A real sensation, which, rare, made the spectators stand up in the stands.

Enough to give China a spotlight on this young sport, where hip-hop music is broadcast and where participants chain the “high five” to encourage each other. “It’s a sport in which we all know each other very well, we wish everyone the best,” notes the Norwegian Marcus Kleveland. “We do not compete against others but with others”, adds another snowboarder. Between the chimneys, a little heat in icy Games.


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