The true champions

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Documentary highlights the immense contribution to the success of the Winter Olympics by those who normally remain in the shadows.

With the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics in full swing, the eyes of the world are upon the medal-winning sports stars. However, there are many ordinary people-varying from venue maintenance workers to volunteers and medical staff-who also deserve a "gold medal" for their efforts to ensure the Games go smoothly.

These unsung heroes have, recently, been highlighted in a six-episode documentary series, From Beijing to Beijing: Life Between Olympics, produced by China Media Group. It focuses on a wide range of people from different walks of life, recounting how they have devoted themselves to the event's preparation or contributed in their own individual way to the sporting extravaganza.

As Beijing is the world's first city to host both the Summer and Winter Olympics, Ren Chongrong, the documentary's chief director, recalls that she was inspired and intrigued to revisit those who had worked on the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics and have been devoted to the Winter Games. In a very real sense, they are "dual Olympians".

The first person featured in the documentary is Li Jiulin, the chief engineer responsible for the construction of the National Speed Skating Oval, or the "Ice Ribbon", and the Beijing National Stadium, also known as the Bird's Nest.

Between the ages of 35 and 40, Li pulled out all the stops to work on the construction of the Bird's Nest. Now turning 50, the veteran engineer returned to his "familiar zone "alongside colleagues, tackling the many technical difficulties in building the Ice Ribbon, which boasts a saddle-shaped roof made of steel cables spanning a total of 20,410 meters-the largest of its kind in the world.

With cutting-edge technology, the roof consumes one fourth as much steel as a normal roof built via traditional methods, embodying China's effort to deliver its promise of hosting a green Winter Olympics, the documentary says.

Ren was full of praise.

"I felt thrilled walking into the Ice Ribbon for the first time last year, although its interior was still in a rudimentary shape. But I still clearly remember that Li said he felt proud that the Olympics have given Chinese architects like him a chance to try new ideas and pursue their dreams on such a huge platform."

Another highlight of the documentary is China's emergency medical team for the Alpine skiing events. The country's first such team, it was established in 2018 gathering more than 100 professionals from over 10 hospitals in Beijing.

"The king of speed" at the Winter Olympics is downhill skiing, as athletes approach 140 kilometers per hour. With an injury rate of close to 15 percent, the discipline requires doctors to also master excellent skiing skills in order to get to an injured athlete within 4 minutes.

Ren says she has followed the doctors for more than a year, traveling with them in the biting cold at Wanlong Ski Resort, in North China's Hebei province, the medical team's training ground for the past four years.

"These doctors need to carry an emergency bag weighing more than 10 kilograms. During their training to prepare for the Winter Olympics, I saw them just eating bowls of instant rice in order to save time for training, and also leave more time for their work at their respective hospitals," says Ren.

The doctors would fill syringes with medicine and pocket them inside their down jackets beforehand as a method of using their body temperature to prevent the medicine from freezing. Ren says she feels moved and had great respect for the doctors, hailing them as "heroes off the field".

Embodying China's promise to engage 300 million people in winter sports, one of the six episodes turns the lens on young ice hockey players at Zhenzhuquan (Pearl Spring) Central Primary School in northwestern Beijing's Yanqing district.

The school's ice hockey team was formed in 2017, when the then principal stumbled upon Zhao Jisheng, a retired physical education teacher from Beijing Normal University.

Zhao, now 69, was playing ice hockey. The veteran's skills attracted the principal, who invited him to work as a coach at the school, which is located near a river that provides a natural rink for the 40 or so students to enjoy the ice sport during winter.

"Most of the students at the school have changed a lot since they started to play ice hockey. It has helped them to learn the importance of rules, unity and hard work," says Ren.

"From all these stories, including those of the doctors and the young ice hockey players, the audience will see that the Olympic spirit influences every one of us, encouraging us to work hard, strive to surpass ourselves, and value teamwork. And therefore it can help you to reorient the direction of your life," she adds.

Currently, the documentary, which started airing on China Media Group's documentary channel and its official website in mid-January, has been well-received, with its related topics drawing nearly 300 million views on the popular social media platform Sina Weibo.

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