Winter Games offer great opportunities for Austria, China to deepen cooperation: ambassador
Published: Feb 13, 2022 08:02 PM
Austrian Ambassador to China Andreas Riecken during an exclusive interview with the Global Times. Photo: Lin Luwen/GT

Austrian Ambassador to China Andreas Riecken during an exclusive interview with the Global Times. Photo: Lin Luwen/GT

Editor's Note:
Few countries in modern Olympic history have won more medals at the Winter Games than at the Summer Games, and Austria is one of them. The Alps traverse the country from west to east, nurturing Austrians' natural love for winter sports. In a recent exclusive interview with Global Times (GT) reporters Lin Xiaoyi and Cui Fandi, Austrian ambassador to China, Andreas Riecken (Riecken) said that at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage the world, China offers an opportunity for athletes from all countries to come together and celebrate this great sporting event, and he looks forward to see further deepened cooperation between Austria and China through the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, and the development of  ice and snow sports.

GT: The world has ground to a halt during the global COVID-19 pandemic. What is the significance of the Beijing Winter Olympics to the international community?
Riecken: As I am a long-standing supporter of the Olympic spirit, it affords an opportunity to unite and celebrate the 2022 Winter Olympic Games. 
We are acutely aware of the new challenges brought about by the Omicron variant. However, the hosting of the Olympic games here in Beijing has provided us with a great opportunity to organize a series of events at our Embassy dubbed "Winter Wonderland" to showcase the importance of winter sports for the Austrian economy and tourism, including Austrian ice-related culture to people in China.
GT: What expectations do you have for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games?  
Riecken: For Austria, the 2022 Winter Olympic Games are of great importance. Winter sports are quite popular in Austria and as such, the delegation representing Austria at the Winter Games is rather large. We have great expectations for the Austrian delegation comprised of an estimated 350 people, including trainers, coaches, support staff, and 106 athletes who will grace the games in 12 disciplines.  
After long and painstaking preparations, our athletes look forward to showcasing their talent and skill in various disciplines. But, as is to be expected in the Olympic Games, competition is likely to be stiff. Other countries will also showcase excellent athletic representatives, and it will be a thrill to witness Austrian athletic prowess in action.

GT: Chinese government has put in place strict anti-epidemic measures, especially in light of the Omicron variant. What is your opinion on these measures in terms of their stringency and necessity? 
Riecken: China's extensive Winter Olympic preparations are well known, as are the efforts made by international athletes to prepare for the sporting event. Protection mechanisms have to be in place for the smooth running of the games, and to mitigate the threat posed by a potential coronavirus disease spread. 

GT: The Alps have made Austria a fertile ground for winter sports and Austria is one of the few countries to have won more medals at the Winter Games than the Summer Olympics. How would you describe the people's passion for winter sports in Austria? 
Riecken: Austria's topography allows for convenient access to winter sports facilities in various cities. In turn, Austrians like to practice winter sports, frequently partaking in alpine skiing, skating, cross-country skiing and winter hiking. 
The country is also an ideal destination for international winter sports enthusiasts, with many such tourists spending their winter holidays there, thanks to the development of modern and convenient infrastructure. Austria is a major global winter tourism destination, but tourism numbers have decreased after the advent of COVID-19. We are hopeful that tourism numbers will see resurgence in the near future. 

GT: How have China and Austria engaged in bilateral cooperation and exchanges in the field of winter sports? 
Riecken: Winter sports and the Winter Olympics provide an excellent opportunity to promote business ties and winter tourism between Austria and China. Chinese athletes have had a history of visiting Austrian mountains for training purposes in preparation for the Winter Olympics. Conversely, Austrian companies are involved in the building of infrastructure here in China, in the creation of winter sport-ready slopes, and winter tourist infrastructure alike which have both shown great promise. 

GT: How do you think China has fulfilled its promise of attracting 300 million people to participate in ice and snow sports as part of its Olympic bid?
Riecken: The Winter Olympics also provide an excellent opportunity to promote winter sports in China as it offers a healthy alternative for the general public to take up sports. Through such efforts, we hope to increase cooperation in relevant fields with China. 
The growth of winter sports in popularity within the country has also attracted our attention, with an increasing number of winter resorts under development. We have extensive experience in this particular area that can be shared with our Chinese colleagues. 

GT: Austria has deep ties to the Winter Olympics and is considered one of the sports' powerhouses in Europe, ranking sixth on the all-time Winter Olympics medals list with 232 medals. Are there any new goals for the Austrian delegation this year? 
Riecken: We have 106 athletes in our delegation, including three Olympic gold medalists. They are alpine skiing double Olympic gold medalist Matthias Mayer, snowboarder Anna Gasser, who won the gold in PyeongChang in 2018, and David Gleirscher who also won in PyeongChang in luge. 
We also have a long list of other excellent athletes, including Stefan Kraft, three-time world champion and a two-time overall world cup champion in ski jumping. Additionally, our delegation includes a Nordic Combined athlete, Johannes Lamparter, who's 20 years old and won two Gold medals at the 2021 Nordic Skiing World Championships in Germany.
Austria has long ranked among the top 10 in the leader board, with a conservative medal total estimate of 14 and possibly 17 expected, a projection based on the team's past performances. Such an outcome would be ideal though this is not to put any undue pressure on our athletes. We encourage them to have fun at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, while striving their best, and we jointly hope for a positive outcome.