Beijing’s great aerial site will be transformed into a giant water slide

The Big Air Shougang Ski Jump, built on the site of a disused steel mill, was the most talked about site of the Winter Olympics. Although there were accolades, it was also criticized as dystopian and dreary. Beijing also hopes not to add the “white elephant” to this list.

To keep the structure viable after Sunday night’s closing ceremony, China plans to use it to train the next generation of Winter Olympic athletes, many of whom might have been inspired by watching the stars of Chinese team Eileen Gu and Su Yiming win gold there. But that’s when it’s cold.

In summer, the city plans to turn it into a very large water slide. Alternatively, according to the Beijing Olympics Organizing Committee, it could also be covered with grass and used for grass luge.

Whether these plans are innovative or wacky, they highlight an issue that has long preoccupied Olympic host cities: what to do with bespoke venues once the Games are over. Seeing multi-million dollar facilities fall into disuse has fueled public opposition in many countries to bids for the Games.

“There are definitely challenges with any kind of reuse project,” said David Fannon, associate professor of architecture at Northeastern University, who has written about how to make structures more adaptable. “And then especially with what’s probably quite unique,” he said of plans for the Shougang Big Air jump.

The International Olympic Committee has tried to respond to its detractors. In 2018, the IOC passed sweeping reforms to the way it selects host cities, including relaxing its venue requirements. As a result, 80% of the facilities proposed for the Milan-Cortina 2026 Winter Games in Italy, the first determined by this process, will be existing or temporary structures.

About 60% of the venues for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang and Beijing 2022 were existing or temporary, according to the IOC.

The Chinese capital has budgeted around $1.5 billion for Olympic facilities. The Financial Times reported on Friday that actual spending was twice as high.

Responding to a Bloomberg News query ahead of the FT’s report, the Beijing Organizing Committee for the 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympics said spending was in line with what was budgeted. The committee did not immediately respond to a subsequent request for comment on the FT article.

Beijing reallocated some of the venues from the 2008 Summer Games. The Bird’s Nest National Stadium was new ten years ago; this year it hosted the opening and closing ceremonies.

The National Aquatics Center, aka the “Water Cube”, hosted swimming and diving events in 2008. Today it is the “Ice Cube”, used for curling. The National Indoor Stadium, which once housed gymnastics, trampoline and handball, hosted ice hockey.

Only certain locations can be transformed in this way. “Many sports require highly specialized facilities,” said Heike C. Alberts, associate professor of geography at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, who has written about the impact of games on cities.

Although an ice rink may be open to the public, she said, few people can safely use an Olympic ski jump or bobsleigh run. “A ski jump can sometimes be used as a viewing platform, for example, but the number of different uses is limited,” she said.

But host cities must try. Beijing has released a 200-page report outlining what it believes to be the legacy of the Winter Games, including how the various venues will be used after the Olympics. The outlook for some seems more difficult than for others.

One of the new Olympic venues was the National Sliding Center, which was used for bobsleigh, skeleton and luge events. After the Games, it will continue to be used by the Chinese national team for training and as a venue for future competitions. Beyond that, development will focus on the area around the structure, where facilities for rock climbing, mountain biking, ziplining and other activities will be set up.

The National Ski Jumping Center, an hour by train from Beijing, will also be used during the offseason. The site is adding a restaurant and conference facilities so it can be used to host events such as e-sports, chess and card competitions, according to the Beijing Organizing Committee.

Other sites will be more related to winter sports. Genting Snow Park has been a commercial ski resort since 2012. Prior to the games, the resort beautified the slopes, built four T-bars and upgraded its water system.

After bathing in the glow of the Olympics, the resort is set to become Asia’s largest snowboard park. About 2 million people now go skiing every year in Zhangjiakou, where the Genting resort is located, according to Liu Xinghua, head of BOCOG’s legacy and general planning department. This is ten times more than in 2015 and on par with annual visitors to Hokkaido in Japan.

“When you’re building new sites, the primary focus isn’t just for games, but also for long-term reuse,” Liu said. Avoiding white elephant projects is “a very big challenge for every host city”, he added.

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