On all available surfaces in Zhang Wenquan’s crowded house in Beijing are Olympic memorabilia, mascots and torches with flags, banners, clothing and plush toys. The Chinese superfan scours the internet for rare souvenirs and takes selfies several times a week ahead of the countdown to the 2022 Winter Games in the capital. Beijing will become the first city to host both the Summer and Winter Olympics when the event kicks off in February – a dream come true for the construction company worker. Zhang’s interest was first piqued when he became glued to the 2000 Sydney Olympics as a high school student.
“I saw China win many gold medals and I felt inspired,” the 35-year-old told AFP. When the Games arrived in Beijing in 2008, he worked as an official volunteer, a life-changing experience that sparked his passion for collecting memorabilia. Dressed in a 2022 Winter Olympics scarf and sweatshirt featuring his mascot, plus a headband that read “Come on, Winter Olympics!” – Zhang shows the range of merchandise spanning his House.
The house is so full of piles of cardboard boxes that he has had to sleep elsewhere. He estimates that he has spent at least 400,000 yuan ($ 62,800) on 5,000 souvenirs so far. Zhang scours eBay daily for new listings, the most expensive find being a $ 1,900 torch from the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City. He has row after row the mascot “Bing Dwen Dwen” for the next Winter Games, a panda wearing an ice shell in different colors and sizes.
It also receives donations of merchandise from Olympic volunteers. “Some of these people that I’ve never even met, but they always send me things, so I feel extremely moved,” he said. His collection is now on display in local schools and universities in the run-up to the Games. He proudly showed AFP one of his favorites, a mascot of the first Munich Games in 1972 which was then redesigned. “I’ve heard that there are only 10 copies of the original, so it’s extremely rare,” he said, carefully turning the small brown dachshund figurine over in his hands.
In 2008, Zhang helped score at Beijing’s Wukesong Baseball Stadium – a photo from the period shows a skinny, bespectacled young man in a sky-blue Olympic jersey proudly holding a baseball bat aloft in a empty arena. In his cluttered house, a framed certificate of participation hangs on the wall.
The mega-fan said he often skipped meals during the Games to collect food and drink tokens given to volunteers rather than exchanging them for supplies, despite having a cold. “I suffered a lot at the time! He laughs. But Zhang was intoxicated by the atmosphere in 2008 at a time of extraordinary national pride. China has won 48 gold medals and displayed its growing strength as a world power. Zhang failed the competitive selection process to become a volunteer in 2022, but hopes to secure tickets for the opening and closing ceremonies, as well as his favorite sport, figure skating.
He currently travels frequently to the Beijing Olympic venues. His face lights up when he says he waited outside the capital’s “Bird’s Nest” stadium for a dress rehearsal for the February Games, watching rays of light beam across the night sky. “The stadium was lit up dramatically, it was several hundred times more beautiful than the Beijing Olympics in 2008,” he said. And Zhang is already planning to travel to Paris for the 2024 Games. “I really want to collect the Paris 2024 torch and mascot. Even though they haven’t been released yet, I’m ready and waiting.” – AFP