The Olympic Games Beijing 2008 left the city with some of the best sports stadiums in the world, which will again come under the global spotlight at the Olympic Winter Games in 2022. Ten years on from the unforgettable Opening Ceremony in the ‘Bird’s Nest’, we look at how the venues are being reworked and how new developments will add to China’s reputation as a sporting capital.
The most obvious first: the Beijing National Stadium, known to most as the Bird’s Nest. Specifically built for the Olympic Games Beijing 2008, it was designed by celebrated architects Herzog & De Meuron in collaboration with artist Ai Weiwei. Back then, the 91,000-capacity stadium played host to the astonishingly choreographed Opening Ceremony, athletics (including Usain Bolt’s debut 100m and 200m gold medal wins), football finals and the Closing Ceremony.
In the decade since, the stadium has been used for football, concerts, the 2015 World Athletics Championship and even motor racing. At Beijing 2022, the Bird’s Nest will host the Opening and Closing Ceremonies. If last time around is anything to go by, something truly memorable should be expected. Another architectural masterpiece, the Beijing National Indoor Stadium, aka The Fan, hosted gymnastics, trampoline and handball. Currently, the site is mostly used for basketball, but for 2022, The Fan will be frozen – and used for ice hockey.
Also situated close to the Bird’s Nest in the Olympic Green cluster is the Beijing National Aquatics Centre. This also has a distinctive design and nickname, the Water Cube, and it looks magnificent when lit up at night. Swimmers loved it here in 2008, and it was the site of USA’s Michael Phelps’ record eight gold medals. The venue is now a favourite among Beijing locals. After the Games, half of it was transformed into a water park. Ballets such as Swan Lake have been performed here, but for 2022 it will be upgraded so that it can host curling (and switch back to swimming and diving, seasonally). Expect it to be known then as the Ice Cube.
The Capital Indoor Stadium is a storied Chinese venue. Opened in 1968, it has hosted numerous famous fixtures. In 1971 the China and USA table tennis teams played there as a part of a programme that became known as ‘ping pong diplomacy’, helping thaw relations between the two countries.
Since then it has welcomed basketball and indoor American football and was the setting for volleyball at Beijing 2008. It is now used for ice hockey, figure skating and short track speed skating – the latter two of which will be contested at the Capital Indoor Stadium in 2022. China will have big medal hopes, and the locals will crowd the 15,000-capacity rink to see another chapter written in the venue’s rich history.
The Wukesong Sports Centre is another fascinating building used for Beijing 2008, when it hosted basketball. It is one of the most successful 2008 venues, having successfully negotiated multiple naming rights agreements, has resident sports teams, and is privately run. It is fully utilised, and some of the 100+ events it hosts every year include concerts by artists such as Kanye West, Beyoncé, Bruno Mars, Iron Maiden and Justin Bieber, as well as multiple sports events, e.g. CBA basketball, MMA and ice hockey, which will be its purpose in 2022.
Also set to be used in 2022 will be the China National Convention Centre, which will host the Main Press Centre and International Broadcast Centre. In addition to the 2008 venues being used for 2022, many of the permanent venues built for 2008 continue to thrive across the city. The National Tennis Centre courts are available for use by the general public and play host to the ATP 500 China Open.
The Beijing Shooting Range Hall & Beijing Clay Target Field are used by the Chinese national team as training centres. A number of sports halls on university grounds were built for Beijing 2008 and are all in use today: Beijing University of Technology (badminton and rhythmic gymnastics), Peking University (table tennis), China Agriculture University (wrestling), University Technology and Science Beijing (judo and taekwondo) and Beijing Institute of Technology (volleyball).
Other venues, such as the Beach Volleyball Ground and the Canoeing and Rowing Park, have had mixed fortunes.
The Beach Volleyball main stadium, designed to be temporary, has not been used for a number of years. However this is not the full picture, the entire facility for the Beach Volleyball Ground consisted of the main venue, two warm-up grounds and an accompanying six training courts. Post Games, parts of the facility were converted into a 20,000 square metre beach-themed Water Park, with the training courts now serving as leisure volleyball facilities or having been repurposed to offer a beach landscape to the water park attendees.
As for the Canoeing and Rowing Park, the slalom course is no longer in use, however main the competition canoe pool has been transformed into a leisure swim facility with water floats, while the rowing pool is still in use for rowing, paddling and children’s triathlons.