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Excitement ramps up

By SUN XIAOCHEN | China Daily | Updated: 2023-11-24 10:43
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The Big Air ramp at west Beijing's Shougang Industrial Park is preparing to welcome the world's top freeskiers and snowboarders to compete in the second leg of the 2023-24 FIS Big Air World Cup series next week. CHINA DAILY

Iconic Beijing 2022 venue set for encore as Big Air World Cup hits town

One of the most iconic venues in winter sports is back in the international spotlight as the world's finest freeskiers and snowboarders descend on Beijing for the Big Air World Cup.

With the snow cannons blasting at full capacity, the snowcat manicuring the ramp, and the stage for a live concert taking shape, the Shougang Big Air venue has been bustling with activity this week as it prepares to host an international sporting event for the first time since wowing the world at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.

As the second of five stops on the 2023-24 World Cup circuit, the Beijing leg will feature the world's first and only permanent Big Air ramp, built inside Shougang Industrial Park — Beijing's acclaimed model of urban regeneration.

A total of 166 athletes from 24 countries and regions have signed up for the freeski and snowboard qualification rounds on Nov 30 and Dec 1 respectively. The final of both events will take place on Dec 2.

As well as the hair-raising aerial tricks from an elite field of daredevil athletes, the capital crowd will be treated to pop music shows and an assortment of carnival activities at the park.

China's reigning Olympic champion Su Yiming and rising star Yang Wenlong will lead the host's charge in snowboarding, while Beijing 2022 gold medalist Birk Ruud of Norway and defending world champion Tess Ledeux of France are the main attractions in freeski at the former site of Shougang steel mill.

Su has not competed at a World Cup event since his Olympic triumph and last season only participated in one stop of the X Games, at Aspen. However, the teenage sensation has kept fans enthralled online recently, with videos of a series of "are-you-kidding-me?" runs from a recent training trip to Austria going viral on social media.

Yang has emerged as one to watch after stomping a multi-spin 1800-degree move to top qualifying with a score of 93.33 points at the World Cup's opening leg in Switzerland last month. He eventually finished sixth in the final, but his highlight-reel moment has thrown down the gauntlet for an intriguing showdown in Beijing.

In freeski, an inexperienced host team is treating this week's competition as a learning experience, with superstar Gu Ailing skipping Big Air to instead focus on her World Cup season opener in halfpipe at another Beijing 2022 venue, Genting Resort in Zhangjiakou, Hebei province, from Dec 6-9.

"The entire skiing and snowboarding community, including our own athletes, are eagerly looking forward to return to the Shougang Big Air slope for the first time since the Olympics," said Li Yang, a deputy director of China's National Winter Sports Administrative Center.

"Entering the second season of the 2026 Winter Olympic cycle, our main goal is to test the progress from our offseason training camps and try to go for podium finishes in both disciplines.

"Our younger athletes are particularly worth keeping an eye on at the Beijing leg after a productive summer program which saw them achieve breakthroughs in difficulty and trick execution."

The World Cup event's return to Shougang will shed new light on the use of permanent Olympic facilities after the Games — a challenge commonly faced by hosts of major sporting events worldwide.

Shougang Big Air's operation team has spared no effort in turning the venue into a destination for not just winter sports, but also cultural events, exhibitions, conventions and sightseeing.

Connected by a new subway line to downtown Beijing, the former industrial site is now also home to restaurants, hotels and an exhibition center as part of an urban revitalization project triggered by Beijing 2022.

Preparations for the World Cup have been going smoothly, with the snow-making and slope-grooming work expected to be completed by Monday, allowing athletes to practice for two days prior to the qualification runs, according to the event organizing team.

"This World Cup event is taking place earlier than previous seasons so we kind of faced a tough challenge in warmer weather," said Liu Shuang, supervisor of the snow-making team.

"We've adopted a new method which involves smashing ice cubes at the foot of the slope and using snowcats to push ice powder from the bottom up, so the ramp gets evenly covered with thick ice and snow. This makes the ramp surface solid and consistent for competitors to launch their runs, take off and land their tricks safely," he said.

The Shougang Big Air venue will continue to bid for more elite-level freeski and snowboarding competitions, and also regularly host grassroots activities such as marathons, hiking and cycling, effectively turning the park into a mass fitness center, according to the venue operation team.

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