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Beijing celebrates winning the 2022 Winter Olympics


BEIJING (AP) — Lion dancers swayed and confetti canons erupted Friday as news came that Beijing would become the first city to host both the summer and winter Olympics.

Local residents praised their city’s winning bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, although celebrations were far more muted than 14 years ago when Beijing exploded in glee after getting the 2008 Summer Games.

Much of the celebration centered around the iconic Bird’s Nest stadium at an event attended by about 500 preselected participants. Liu Yunshan, a top Communist Party leader, thanked the crowd and pledged the central government’s support for the effort.

“My life is complete,” said Yang Linping, chairman of the National Indoor Stadium Co., who participated in organizing the 2008 Olympics and was looking forward to handling a winter event as well. “This is the result I was expecting, and I am especially happy.”

On the street, city residents and tourists expressed happiness reflecting support level percentages that both the IOC and Chinese organizers have put in the high 90s. Many Beijingers looked forward to improvements in city’s notorious pollution and heavy traffic, both of which were alleviated during the 2008 Games through strict restrictions on factories and private drivers.

“I feel happy and proud,” 24-year-old office administrator Li Yi said in downtown Beijing. “And I hope to see a big boost for air quality and traffic conditions — anything relating to the quality of life in this city.”

The 2022 Games will raise Beijing’s “international profile even higher,” college student Jenny Xiang said near the Bird’s Nest. “We saw what happened after 2008 and I’m sure it will be just as good this time.”

Yet the mood was considerably more sedate than in 2001, when Beijing succeeded in its long-yearned-for dream of hosting the Olympics for the first time. That year, crowds poured into Tiananmen Square in the heart of the city, staying up all night waving flags, chanting slogans and exuding a vibe of freedom and genuine joy so rarely felt in the often dour capital of the authoritarian communist state.

Beijing had been the front-runner going into Friday’s vote and won chiefly by portraying itself as the seasoned, safe choice. Six of the nine venues intended for the games are already in place, including the Bird’s Nest and adjacent Water Cube arena. That’s helping to keep the total cost for operations and infrastructure to a projected $3 billion, hewing closely to the IOC’s new watchwords of frugality and sustainability.

While concerns have been expressed about the distance to the mountain venues, located 60 and 140 kilometers (40 and 90 miles) from the city, Beijing says a high-speed train already in the works will cut travel time to about 50 minutes.

The 2008 Summer Games eventually came in at a price tag estimated at about $40 billion, transforming the city with new stadiums, subway lines and sparkling residential communities. The games were a showcase for the city, starting with the riveting opening ceremony in the Bird’s Nest, and Beijing was widely praised for its organizational expertise, despite continuing complaints of repression from human rights groups.

In Hong Kong, liberal city legislator Albert Ho said awarding the 2022 Winter Games to Beijing was a mistake.

“This is very disappointing. This gives Beijing the wrong signal that the whole world no longer cares about the human rights situation in China and that it cares only that China is a rising power,” he said. “The IOC has lost the spirit of the Olympics.”

While the profile of Beijing’s city center is unlikely to alter much because of the games, areas around the mountain sports venues are likely to see major changes. Businesses will look for opportunities to cash in on the attention, while real estate speculators will pile-in, counting on the added cachet the games provide.

In Chongli, outside Beijing, 80-year-old resident Wu Yuelai said it had been a long wait for China to finally achieve hosting rights for the Winter Olympics.

“I am very happy,” he said, “although I don’t know if I’ll live to see the actual games.”

By Christopher Bodeen

Associated Press