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What the Olympics' Big Air Venue Says About China's Smog Problem

Those towers no longer spew smoke over Beijing, but that’s only part of the story.

When Eileen Gu nailed a perfect left double 1620 to win gold in the women’s freestyle big air at the Beijing Olympics, her performance drew attention to the unusual surroundings. What was a snow-covered ski ramp doing alongside a slew of gigantic furnaces and cooling towers? 

No, the competition wasn’t set in a nuclear plant. The venue is adjacent to a decommissioned steel factory, once a source of national pride — and a major contributor to Beijing’s legendary smog. How a massive polluter became an Olympic venue is also a story of China’s efforts on city renewal and its struggles to fight air pollution and reach net zero.