When the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics begins next week, the Chinese capital will become the first city in history to have hosted both the summer and winter games.
Like most Olympics, not everything has run smoothly for Beijing. While the pandemic has not delayed the games as it did for Tokyo 2020, spectators will once again be limited. And there has been political outrage about the host country. Many countries (including the UK and America) have announced diplomatic boycotts the games in light of China’s human rights records.
It’s perhaps unsurprising that many visual elements of these games – from the torch to panda mascot – recall the Beijing 2008 Olympics, focusing on the Olympic history being made. Venues built for the city’s 2008 games will also be used again, though new destinations have been created: a speed skating oval and snowboarding stadium. The design does also attempt to move things forward, embracing not only China’s culture but also the increasing diversity of winter sports.
The opening ceremony for the 2022 Games will look familiar; it takes place at the “Bird’s Nest” stadium – designed by architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron – that housed the 2008 Games. It’s also being directed by filmmaker Zhang Yimou who oversaw the 2008 ceremony. Not much is known about the exact details, but expect plenty of fireworks and dancing, with a cinematic touch. The official motto for both the Olympics and Paralympics is “Together for a Shared Future”.
The 2022 logo has been crafted by Chinese designer Lin Cunzhen (who also worked on the 2008 Olympics logo), following an open call for submissions. It’s inspired by the Chinese character for winter (冬), and also represents a skater at the top and skier below. Its ribbons symbolise China’s mountainous landscape and also the Olympic venues, explain the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The blue colour palette is meant to represent dreams and the “purity of ice and snow” while China’s flag makes a showing with in the emblem’s red and yellow.
The Paralympics logo, from the same designer, is based on the Chinese character飞 (meaning fly), and features the same colour palette.
The 24 pictograms for the Winter Olympics blend traditional Chinese graphics and the diversity of winter sports, explains the IOC. Freestyle skiing has been allotted six icons thanks to the range of equipment used. The designs are based on seal engraving – in each, the sport is represented with strokes characteristic of Chinese seals which date back centuries. “The sharp contrast between the red background and white strokes also highlights the grace and dynamism of winter sports,” organisers add. The pictograms have been crafted by a group of designers led by Lin Cunzhen.
Illustrator and designer Cao Xue has created the 2022 mascot, a lively panda named Bing Dwen Dwen (Bing means ice in Chinese, while Dwen Dwen means robust). Bing Dwen Dwen is decked out in a full-body shell – resembling an astronaut suit – which is a “tribute to embracing new technologies for a future with infinite possibilities”, says the IOC.
The panda’s future-facing potential is emphasised by the rainbow-coloured halos which wrap around its face. Though the animal was chosen from almost 6,000 submissions, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that a panda was chosen – the giant panda is China’s national animal (and was also one of the five mascots at the 2008 Games).
Cao Xue also designed the Paralympics mascot Sheuy Rhon Rhon, described as a “Chinese lantern child” by the IOC. The mascot’s features pay homage to China’s paper cutting traditions and ruyi (decorative objects). The character’s warm glow is supposed to represent the “perseverance of Para athletes”, say organisers.
The halo-faced panda and glowing lantern mascot can also be spotted on the three sets of official posters, designed by Chinese students and revealed at the 2021 edition of Beijing Design Week. Particularly striking is a design from fine arts student Su Yun Zheng which interlocks the Olympic rings with a snowflake design. Together, the emblems represent a Chinese knot – a symbol of good luck.
The red and silver torch, designed by Li Jianye, nods to its counterpart at Beijing’s Summer Olympics. “By using the same colour combination and by sharing similar artistic elements with the 2008 torch, we aim to extend auspicious greetings to the world as we did at the Summer Games,” Li says. The torch’s ribbon-like structure, itself a nod to 2008’s scroll-like cauldron, allows carriers to lock together the two torches. It also uses hydrogen fuel, meaning that it is emission-free. Owing to a number of Covid cases in China, the torch relay has been shortened to just three days.
The trailer for BBC’s coverage of the games – designed by BBC Creative and London-based animation studio BlinkInk – plays up the drama of the winter sports. From a block of ice, emerges an athlete who alternately skates, slaloms and snowboards in the glare of flashing lights. Directed by Balázs Simon, the sequence uses 3D-printed ice sculptures and stop motion in an attempt to amp up the Olympic drama with the tagline: “Extreme by nature”.
“In a way I wanted to find myself in a similar situation as the Olympians: in a foreign, unforgiving place which needs to be conquered,” Simon says. “We wanted to portray them being born into ice and snow and eventually breaking out.”
Unsurprisingly, most nations’ uniforms are focused on keeping warm; China’s official ceremony kit includes self-heating thermal underwear and non-slip boots. Team GB’s kit for the opening and closing ceremony has been designed by Ben Sherman, and is suitably warm and patriotic. The athletes will hopefully stay warm with a roll-neck sweater which bears a deconstructed union jack.