Get your skates on: Cool idea becomes Shanghai hotspot
The famous Oriental Pearl TV Tower in Shanghai has always been a tourist magnet, but crowd numbers at the landmark have swelled considerably since the beginning of January thanks to a new attraction.
Located at the foot of the tower, outdoor skating rink Ice Live is a joint venture between Alipay and speed skating great Yang Yang. The 600-square-meter rink was opened on Jan 5 and will last till Feb 24.
Yang said the reaction to the rink has surpassed her expectations.
"When I stood at the Rockefeller outdoor skating rink in New York 10 years ago, I saw couples, families and skillful skaters enjoying themselves and livening up the winter months. I then wondered if China could have a similar rink," she said.
"I wasn't sure whether the Shanghai people would be receptive to skating and I thought the crowds would slowly build up. But the rink has been at full capacity nearly every day. Many tourists were willing to skip visiting other scenic spots to enjoy the skating," she added.
But the motivation behind Ice Live, Yang said, is more than just profit - it is ultimately about raising awareness of winter sports - especially among kids - ahead of the 2022 Olympics in Beijing.
"The first step in promoting winter sports is to cultivate mass interest," said Yang, who chairs the athletes commission of the 2022 organizing committee.
"We will have professional demonstrations of Olympic sports, including figure skating, speed skating and ice hockey to give the public a better understanding of winter sports."
During its short stint, the rink will feature various events and lessons conducted by professional coaches. Yang said that the rink will return to the same location for at least the next four winters.
Born in 1975 in Heilongjiang province, Yang shot to fame by winning China's first ever Winter Olympics gold medal when she sped to glory at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City. In all, she has accumulated 59 major international titles.
Since retiring in 2006, Yang has been working to raise the profile of winter sports in China, with her most notable project being the Feiyang Skating Center in the Pudong area of Shanghai.
Built in 2013, the 5,000-seater venue boasts an 1,880-square-meter rink, which hosts domestic and international skating tournaments and performances, as well as functioning as a training academy for budding young athletes.
According to Yang, the center has partnered with over 30 local schools to grow the popularity of skating through regular courses and competitions. The courses are conducted by professional coaches, many of whom used to train national team athletes.
"It is obvious that we now have more skiing and skating amateurs than before," Yang said.
"One major factor is the Winter Olympics, which are held every four years. The number of skaters at Feiyang surged in 20015 when Beijing announced that it would host the 2022 Winter Olympics."
According to the General Administration of Sport of China, there were 738 skiing venues and 334 indoor ice rinks in the country as of June last year, an annual growth rate of 10.5 percent and 29 percent respectively.
In addition, skiers hit the slopes about 17.5 million times in China in 2017, with that figure at around 20 million for skating, generating 133 billion yuan ($19.7 billion) in consumption-related revenue.
However, Yang believes more still needs to be done to turn enthusiasts into professional athletes, pointing out how Chinese participation at Winter Olympics has in the past been confined to a third of the events.
"We need to set a goal of cultivating more winter sports athletes to participate in different competitions. At the same time, we need to keep improving in those events that we excel in, such as figure skating and speed skating," Yang said.
"The overall winter sports industry in the country is still in a nascent stage and it will take time to develop. But with the right support I'm confident that we will only get better."
(China Daily 02/02/2019 page16)