'The Olympic Sailing Competition will be a great opportunity to improve Qingdao's infrastructure, environment, citizens' living standards, and the city's economy,'
says Lijie SUN, Secretary General for the Sailing Committee.
Qingdao, also known as Tsingtao, lies along China's east coast at the south of the Shandong Peninsula, approximately 800 km southeast of Beijing. Qingdao's total area of jurisdiction expands over 10,654 sq km and 7 million people, whilst approximately 2½ million people live in the Qingdao urban area, where the Qingdao Olympic Sailing Centre is located.
Before Olympic sailing came to town, Qingdao was perhaps best known internationally for its beer Tsingtao, a legacy of German occupation during the start of the 20th century. The area first grew into a town known as Jiao'ao during the Qing Dynasty, before Qingdao city was founded in 1891. The city underwent periods of occupation from both Germany and Japan during the first half of the 20th century, when it was also official renamed Qingdao in 1930. The surrounding mountains, jagged coastline and unique east-meets-west architecture has long made Qingdao a popular tourist spot, and since the 1980s a rapidly-expanding economy has added to the city's appeal.
For anyone arriving in Qingdao in 2007, it would be impossible not to pick up on the city's sailing link; banners adorn tower blocks and bridges, whilst flags flutter alongside the main thoroughfare. No expense has been spared in promoting, not just the 2008 Olympic Sailing Competition, but both this year's and 2006's test events. Aimin ZANG, Vice-Mayor of Qingdao and member of the Sailing Committee, revealed that the government spends approximately US $400,00 every year on promoting Olympic Sailing.
The city's inhabitants have also demonstrated their enthusiasm for Olympic Sailing. Last year over 8,000 of them watched the Medal Races on the final day of the test event, whilst an incredible 330,000 people applied to work as a volunteer at this year's regatta. This year's event is more accessible than ever, with cost of entry to the venue reduced to 10 RMB [just over US $1].
The Qingdao Sailing Committee is keen to capitalize on this massive level of interest by converting young spectators into young sailors. In their aim to become China's Sailing City, ZANG explained that the focus on the grassroots level was an absolutely key.
'The first step we took is to promote and educate our youth about sailing and Olympic spirit. For instance, we now have 40 schools and 100 sailing clubs specializing in sailing theory and sailing techniques to youth,'
Qingdao is rich in agricultural and fishing resources and has been Special Economic and Technology Development Zone (SETDZ) since 1984. As a result the city's economy has boomed over the past two decades. As well as Tsingtao Brewery, other famous brands to come from Qingdao include white-goods giant Haier and electronics manufacturer Hisense.
The Sailing Committee have been able to harness the city's economic power, not only for the Games itself [the total investment is expected to be fully repaid with various plans for utilizing different parts of the venue], but also to help develop the base for the sport, 'We have purchased 1,000 boats for our youth with donations of over 10 million RMB [approx. US $1,300,000] collected from local companies. To teach these youth to sail, we have also held five training camps with coaches from seven different countries,' explained ZANG.
Qingdao is also lining up other major sailing events post-Games time, most notably the city will be a host port during the 2008-09 Volvo Ocean Race. With this focus on the future and the city's obvious passion for the sport, Qingdao looks all set to benefit from a lasting Olympic sailing legacy.