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    Capital gain for Olympic promotion

    By SUN XIAOCHEN | China Daily | Updated: 2019-02-21 09:41
    Competitors in action during the Cross-Country Skiing City Sprint Tour event in Yan'an, Shaanxi province last March. This year's series kicks off on March 1 at Olympic Park in Beijing. CHINA DAILY

    Streets of Beijing set to host some of the world's top cross-country stars

    Cross-country skiing is no longer confined to shivering in the wild as the marathon on snow will soon be swooshing on the streets of Beijing.

    In an effort to expose urbanites to the Nordic endurance sport, the International Ski Federation on Monday announced it has extended its CC Skiing City Sprint Tour to the capital, with a three-leg series on streets carpeted with artificial snow around landmark locations.

    The series kicks off on March 1 at a rectangle circuit set at Olympic Park, with 200 athletes racing in a 1.7-kilometer sprint between the Bird's Nest and Water Cube-iconic vestiges of the 2008 Summer Olympics.

    The series will continue the next day at Shougang Industrial Park, where the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics organizing committee is now headquartered, with the final sprint set for an open square in northwest Beijing's Yanqing district, one of three venue zones for the 2022 Games, on March 4.

    A total prize pool of 1.5 million yuan ($221,550) is up for grabs, along with FIS ranking points.

    Dubbed a "marathon on snow" for its physical challenge over long distances, cross-country skiing, which originated in Scandinavia, is new in China but local organizers are ambitiously promoting the sport in the buildup to 2022.

    "There is no better way to present the excitement of the sport directly to a new audience in cities, rather than asking people to travel to some remote mountains to learn about it," said Ding Dong, executive deputy director of the National Winter Sports Administrative Center.

    "To organize such accessible, lower-entry and shorter-distance events is also critical for our athletes to build their sense of competing at the elite level and will help them earn ranking points for 2022 qualification."

    A relative novice in snow events, China is aiming to qualify athletes in all 109 events at the 2022 Games, while involving 300 million people in winter sports activities in the lead-up.

    At the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea, China qualified in only 55 events, with limited success. The best result China achieved in cross-country skiing, which produces roughly a quarter of gold medals at each Olympics, was a 16th-place finish in the women's 4x5km relay at the 2006 Turin Games.

    A lack of snowfall and suitable terrain in most parts of the country has posed a challenge for the sport to take off, but adherents are undeterred.

    According to the Beijing Municipal Sports Bureau, organizers have already made enough artificial snow at the three locations. Course layouts, venue decoration and traffic control measures are currently underway.

    "As important as putting on a big show, we are trying to make sure that the events have a minimum impact on property operations and public traffic around the courses," said Chen Jie, a deputy director of the bureau.

    "The goal is to engage as many people as possible, with no problems afterwards."

    The three courses prepared for the series will open to the public to experience the thrills and chills after the races, while the likes of Kikkan Randall, a member of the US gold medal duo in women's team sprint at Pyeongchang, have been invited to compete.

    Randall, who paired with Jessica Diggins to win the first cross-country Olympic gold for the US, said she can't wait to compete in Beijing.

    "It's a great way to show off how fast and fun cross-country racing is," said the 36-year-old, who battled breast cancer on her way to the Olympic podium.

    Last March, FIS held a test run by staging a smaller-scale event in Yan'an, Shaanxi province, under warmer conditions.

    The commitment of Chinese organizers to bring the sport closer to the Olympic spotlight has bolstered the governing body's confidence in cross-country's future.

    "Being able to take place in three iconic locations very much connected to the Olympics surely is ideal to showcase the sport to new fans," said Sarah Lewis, secretary-general of FIS.

    Added Vegard Ulvang, chairman of the FIS' cross-country committee: "With three spectacular events and world-class athletes on site, I hope this will be a great promotion for our sport as well as a perfect warm-up for the 2022 Winter Olympics."

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