By sportswriters Liu Yang and Oliver Trust
BERLIN, Jan. 22 (Xinhua) -- Less than two weeks to go before the 24th Olympic Winter Games begins in Beijing, athletes across Europe are getting ready to go for Olympic glory.
KEEP THE DREAM ALIVE
When 49-year-old Claudia Pechstein learned that she qualified for the Beijing Games, the German speed skating icon felt she could "hug the entire world." She will now become the first woman to compete in eight Olympic Games, crowning her illustrious career.
German bobsleigh athlete Francesco Friedrich, 32, winner of 13 world championships and double gold medalist at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, is practicing hard as he is looking forward to further improve his medal tally in China.
Figure skaters Juulia Turkkila and Matthias Versluis, both 28, will be the first pair from Finland to compete in ice dancing at an Olympic Winter Games.
"It has been our dream for a long time, and it was an unbelievable feeling to find out that we had secured the spot on Finland's Winter Olympics team," Turkkila said. "We want to prove that it is possible to reach the top in ice dance even for athletes coming from a small country."
Croatian cross-country skier Vedrana Malec, 32, has already visited China three times. She is preparing to have "good fun" at the games, although she is aware that the conditions are expected to be tougher this year than during the previous Winter Olympics.
"I haven't had the chance to test the tracks being built in China, so it will be a huge challenge for me. Nevertheless, I expect a friendly reception and I will target the top spot," she said.
Spain's 33-year-old snowboarder Queralt Castellet will compete in her fifth Winter Olympics and her expectations are "as high as possible." She, too, is shooting for a gold medal, of course.
Brothers Liu Shaolin, 27, and Liu Shaoang, 24, born to a Chinese father and a Hungarian mother, won Hungary's first Winter Olympic gold in the short track speed skating 5,000-meter relay in PyeongChang. They, too, are working hard to defend their title in Beijing.
"To be able to compete in Beijing is a big thing for us," Shaolin commented.
In recent months, the organizers of the Beijing Winter Games have repeatedly said that protecting the health and safety of the athletes, the Olympic personnel and the spectators from coronavirus is their "biggest challenge." All those involved will have to follow strict public health measures.
Spyros Capralos, president of the Hellenic Olympic Committee (HOC) and member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), spoke highly of the Chinese organizers' coronavirus measures.
"China is doing a tremendous job preparing for the Games by trying to prevent all sorts of problematic situations that may arise from the spread of the virus," he said.
Coronavirus testing and quarantining are far from comfortable procedures, but most of the athletes have expressed their understanding and support.
"For sure, it's going to be a little bit inconvenient, but it's necessary," 27-year-old Swiss snowboarder Jonas Boesiger said. "I feel safe with all the precautions and it's going to work out. It should be a pretty safe event. I don't see any problem."
Jan Scherrer, Boesiger's teammate in halfpipe, believes the strict COVID rules are good for everyone. "We all know that it's going to be a special year and we should accept it. There will be a lot of restrictions and pressure on the athletes, but that's just the time we are living in now. I'm still excited to go there."
Spanish snowboarder Castellet said that during her preparation for the Beijing Games, she had to "change mentality and adopt a philosophy of living one day at a time and being more aware of the possibilities each day brings."
She said she was confident that the organizers will have everything under control: "I'm sure they'll do a good job in Beijing because they really want to do everything possible to make sure these Games go ahead."
British skeleton athlete Laura Deas came to Beijing in October 2021 for Test Event, and didn't believe that the strict COVID-19 policy at the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games could be an issue.
"I have to say it (Test Event) was incredibly well organized. We felt very safe and very well looked after. And I'm expecting to go into a very similar environment as the Test Event was. I feel like I know what's coming," the Olympic bronze medalist said.
COMMITMENT TO THE IDEALS
Against the backdrop of the huge challenges posed by the pandemic, HOC President Capralos said he was convinced that by hosting the Olympic Winter Games, China demonstrates its commitment to Olympic ideals.
"China shows that the power of sport can bring us closer together by focusing on our shared values," Capralos told Xinhua. "Beijing 2022 will once again teach us the important values of Olympism, which are solidarity, fair play, respect and friendship. And these values take on even more importance in these difficult circumstances we all are facing."
Moreover, China's decision to protect the environment by proposing to host "green, inclusive, open and clean" Games will set a precedent, Capralos said.
In the eyes of several winter Olympic athletes, China serves as an example of how a major world event should be organized.
"The Chinese are top-notch organizers. I believe everything will work in China, and the sports fields will be perfectly prepared," said Croatian cross-country skier Malec.
Jasper Carlson, national coach of the Danish Skating Union, believes that China has done a great job in hosting sports events. "They have ultra-modern facilities. For us athletes and coaches it is a good place to be."
"China is different from Switzerland. It will be an awesome experience for us to see this completely new culture and the new city in wintertime," said Swiss snowboarder Boesiger. "I am looking forward to being there again."
The Liu brothers have sent their blessings to Beijing and encouraged their Chinese fans to keep supporting them just as they support the Chinese skaters.
"We expect to bring home good memories from Beijing -- along with big smiles," Shaoang said.
Snowboarder Castellet also had a message for winter sports fans in China. "I'm really looking forward to going there and we'll do everything we can to show off our sport at its highest level," she pledged.
(Xinhua reporters Xiao Yazhuo, Zhang Wei, Nie Xiaoyang, Jiang Xuelan, Chen Binjie, Chen Jing, Chen Hao, Lin Jing, Meng Dingbo, Yu Shuaishuai, Li Xuejun also contributed to the story.)