Beijing to host 2022 Winter Olympics; IOC in no mood for risks
Beijing mayor Wang Anshun heralded "a remarkable day for Beijing and for the Olympic movement" on Friday after the Chinese capital won the right to host the 2022 Winter Games.
The city beat Kazakhstan's Almaty 44-40 in a vote among International Olympic Committee members in Kuala Lumpur.
"This day will go down in history," Wang told reporters. "The first time in Olympic history that a city will host both a summer and a winter Olympic years. In 120 years this is unprecedented. We are overwhelmed."
Wang vowed to make full use of the legacy from Beijing's 2008 Summer Olympics "while building an even stronger legacy from 2022".
The leader of the successful bid said the city would leverage this success to popularise and develop winter sport in China, dangling the prospect of 300 million new converts.
China's Olympic chief Liu Peng said he would lead by example.
"Sport is all about engaging people for fitness and health," he said. "I am going to replace my roller blades with ice skates," he laughed. "And you will see me now skating on ice. I have started and I am skating quite well, you know."
Beijing's Games will be split between the city and the Zhangjiakou and Yanqing mountain ranges around an hour away.
President Xi Jinping sent his "warm congratulations".
"You put a huge effort into bidding on the Winter Olympics," he said. "I hope your persistent efforts, solid work, the strong support of all the nationalities of the people of the country, will make the 2022 Winter Olympics a splendid, extraordinary and outstanding Olympic meet."
China's basketball superstar Yao Ming was in the Malaysian capital lobbying for the Chinese.
"We are very, very excited about what we achieved here today," he said. "It is an exciting journey that is now starting."
Vote for tried and tested
The choice of Beijing over Almaty was a solid vote for the tried and tested, and the financial and organisational security of China.
It will not be the picture postcard Winter Olympics with mountains blanketed in deep white snow, but a fragmented Games split between the sprawling capital city and two mountain venues almost an hour away.
By contrast, Kazakhstan had promised a winter wonderland at the foot of the Tian Shan mountains, but clearly, the IOC was in no mood for any more risks.
"I think the IOC chose certainty in this vote," IOC vice-president Craig Reedie told Reuters. "We know how the Chinese work. There is a familiarity."
"Kazakhstan is bigger than (Western) Europe and has 17 million people. I think there was a degree of uncertainty."
China's pragmatic approach of using its experience from hosting the 2008 summer Games and many of the existing venues from those Olympics, paid off as the IOC grapples with problems faced by other Games organisations.
Four of the six initial 2022 Games bidders dropped out mid-race over financial concerns or a lack of support, some scared off by the 2014 Sochi winter Olympics' $51 billion price tag.
The IOC had initially attempted to play down the problem saying two good bids were left, before pushing through a string of reforms in December aimed at making future bidding more attractive and the Games themselves cheaper and a more lucrative prospect for host cities.
The withdrawal of Boston from the 2024 summer Games bid race earlier this week triggered even more alarm bells among the IOC, with president Thomas Bach visibly irritated by the further damage done to his organisation's prime product.
An angry attack on Boston and its "broken promises" on Wednesday hinted at which way the 2022 decision would go, with the IOC desperate for some stability.
With the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics racing to make up for lost time after years of delays, the Pyeongchang 2018 winter Games only now picking up speed and the Tokyo 2020 Games seeing stadium plans binned, the fate of the 2022 Games destination had been sealed well before the vote in the Malaysian capital.
As much as the IOC liked Almaty's compact concept which scored points during a presentation in June, the Olympic leaders were not prepared to go to the central Asian state where the economy largely depends on fluctuating oil prices.
Instead they wanted the solid yet unspectacular Beijing bid and the comforting embrace of China, known for delivering on commitments to the IOC, even if it meant sacrificing some or much of the atmosphere of a winter sports destination.
Beijing is unlikely to be blanketed by snow, nor will the mountains be covered by much of the white stuff when the athletes take to the slopes and sliding centres in the mountains around Yanqing and Zhangjiakou.
"There will be no snow next to the slopes. It will be brown, brown, brown," one senior IOC member told Reuters of what conditions they would encounter in Beijing.
But the IOC is guaranteed another hugely successful Olympics in financial terms while also tapping into a growing Chinese middle class eager to try out winter sports.
"I think the sense of security was one of the reasons," John Coates, another IOC Vice President told Reuters. "We have the benefit of knowing them and we can go there with confidence."
The IOC was also willing to accept what looks certain to be a seven-year barrage of questions and criticism over China's human rights record if it meant delivery and execution of the Games would be guaranteed.