Inspired or dystopian, Beijing's Big Air venue sparks social media debate

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BEIJING, Feb 7 (Reuters) - One of the Beijing Winter Olympics venues, the Big Air Shougang, generated a buzz on social media on Monday for its industrial look created by being built at the site of a former steel mill.

The venue in West Beijing, which is essentially one gigantic ski-ramp in the middle of a repurposed industrial park, came into focus as it hosted its first day of Olympic competition with the women's and men's freeski Big Air qualifying events.

Some viewers, accustomed to seeing snow-capped mountains and forests, were taken aback by the site of cooling towers.

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"Feels pretty dystopian to have some kind of nuclear facility as the backdrop for this Big Air skiing event," tweeted LindsayMpls.

Others joked that the venue brought back memories of Homer Simpson's workplace in Fox's classic animated sitcom, The Simpsons.

"The Big Air stadium at the Olympics seems to be right next to the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant," tweeted jlove1982, referring to the fictional city in The Simpsons.

The Shougang industrial park site, was chosen to represent sustainability by turning an industrial area into one for cultural and leisure use, officials have said.

Some viewers and athletes, including Team China's American-born freestyle skiing gold medal hope Eileen Gu, were impressed.

"The venue is fantastic," Gu said. "I mean, look around, there's no snow anywhere else. And somehow when you're skiing on this job, you're feel like you're on a glacier somewhere."

PERMANENT VENUE

Big Air features athletes sliding down a large ramp and performing various gravity-defying tricks and twists.

It is a relatively new event that is popular with athletes and sponsors alike in part because the venue can be temporarily constructed so events can be held at fun, urban locations more accessible to spectators than remote mountain regions.

Big Air is also relatively new to the Games. It only made its Olympic debut four years ago in Pyeongchang for snowboarders. Monday saw the skiers involved too for the first time as freeski Big Air made its Olympic debut.

Shougang's undulating 64-metre high and 164-metre long ramp will remain in place after the Games, making it the world's first permanent Big Air venue.

"The venue is amazing and the bigger jump is so wild, it's such a cool place to have the jump in," said Britain's freestyle skier Kirsty Muir.

French competitor Antoine Adelisse added: "The first time I was on the top I was a bit disappointed, because when we’re at the top we usually see lots of mountains. But when the lights get on it’s really amazing."

The design aims to resemble a ribbon floating in the air, chief architect Zhang Li told state media.

Some users on China's popular Little Red Book social media app said it reminded them of a giant heel of a shoe. Others praised the design.

"It's really cool, super cyberpunk," wrote one user named Wentworth6789.

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Reporting by Martin Quin Pollard and Krystal Hu; Editing by Ken Ferris

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