Life in the Olympic bubble is a bit strange; you are sealed off from the outside world, and it’s easy to forget what is going on outside the micro-universe that we’re in. Life revolves around training times, races and all the small details that impact on our sporting results.
Mandatory toilet stop
I’ve had questions from journalists about what life is like in China, but that is almost impossible to answer. This is the Olympics, not the real China. They’re two completely different things. I’m now at my 4th Olympics, and I’ve had the same feeling, of being insulated from the real world, at every Games I’ve been to.
The effect is amplified this year though, by Covid, and the impossibility of leaving the bubble until we’re on our way out of the country.
Although I don’t feel we’ve experienced China, we have got some brief insights into Chinese planning, organisation, and bureaucracy. What I’ve seen has ranged from very impressive to hilariously inefficient.
Many European countries could learn from the quick, effective daily covid PCR tests we take in the village. The whole process of registering personal details and taking the test takes about ten seconds.
Our travel on the way to the village was, on the other hand, an example of complete logistical incompetency. From the airport we were ushered onto a bus by a gaggle of friendly volunteers in hazmat covid suits.
The driver and volunteers seemed in total disagreement as to our destination, and any time we tried to explain where we needed to go, we were either ignored, or not understood.
Eventually though, we got on our way, escorted by a police car onto the new looking main motorway to Zhangjiakou. Despite little traffic on the roads, we trundled along at an infuriating 40 kilometres an hour. Lorries flew past us, and we resigned to the two-and-a-half-hour journey being rather longer than two and a half hours.
Transport had obviously been told that we couldn’t make the whole journey without having a toilet stop, so after an hour of driving, we pulled off the motorway into a long line of buses at a service station. Rather than being let off, we sat in line for another hour, before we finally rolled forwards to a fenced off, temporary building with toilets.
The hold-up appeared to be that the toilets were disinfected between every bus. Despite this, they still managed to be rather disgusting. Disinfecting appeared to entail spraying every surface with disinfectant, whilst completely ignoring any actual cleaning necessary.
After another few hours of driving, the whole procedure was repeated. We waited in line inside the bus for over an hour, had a five-minute toilet break before heading back on the road. It turns out that this hour-long stop was only thirty minutes from the Olympic Village, much to our annoyance.
The journey ended up taking well over five hours, but we were lucky; other teams had much longer journeys with no access to drinking water the entire time.
The sad reality of modern skiing
Much has been made of the skiing events being held near the edge of the Gobi Desert, and that the snow we are racing on is almost entirely man-made. It does seem slightly ridiculous to put a ski resort in such an arid area, but the sad reality of modern skiing is that we do the majority of our races on artificial snow. Even in Scandinavia and the Alps, although there may be natural snow on top, World Cup race venues will almost always have a base of artificial snow.
One thing I have never seen in Europe, however, is snow cannons blowing snow across hillsides around the ski area, in an attempt to make the dry, brown landscape seem more «wintry».
This has been completely ridiculous, ineffective, and has only led to a few random white splotches scattered around the landscape. Snow-cannons have also been spotted mounted on lorries, driving along spraying roadsides to give them more of the same «wintry« feeling.
Shovelling snow into bin-bags
Despite the low average precipitation in February for the area, it has snowed a few times since we’ve been here. Driving into the village on our arrival, it suddenly started snowing.
This led to all manner of conspiracy theories involving the Chinese controlling the weather, but after seeing lorry-mounted snow cannons we soon realised that their technology was far from so advanced! They don’t seem to be too used to large dumps of snow here, as the current snow clearing method involves a team effort of shovelling snow into bin-bags.
What has been interesting, is that despite the cold, any snow quickly disappears from the hillsides around the village. Whether this is due to the dry climate and sublimation, or simply that the snow is blown away by the constant wind, I don’t know.
Another feature of the landscape, besides the random patches of artificial snow, is the vast number of trees the Chinese have planted in the area. These are almost all supported by stakes to prevent them blowing over in the wind and dry, shallow soil. It must have been a massive effort to plant and support them all.
Around the village you can see a network of black cables or pipes amongst the trees. I presume this is an irrigation system. I’m no biologist, so whether this is needed permanently, or just to help the trees take root, I don’t know.
It will be very interesting to see how many of the trees are still standing in a few years’ time.