The International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said Thursday the Beijing Olympics "will change the scale of winter sports forever," despite many having voiced human rights and COVID-19 concerns.
China's ruling Communist Party hopes the Olympics will be a soft-power triumph but they have been overshadowed by diplomatic boycotts, fears for tennis player Peng Shuai, warnings about surveillance and the environmental impact.
The Games, which launch with an opening ceremony Friday at Beijing's "Bird's Nest" stadium and last until Feb. 20, are taking place in one of the driest regions of China and rely almost entirely on man-made snow.
American snowboarder Jamie Anderson, a reigning two-time Olympic champion, said she had been scared trying out the slopestyle course and its artificially made surface, calling it "bulletproof ice."
China has little tradition of winter sports but has consistently said that staging the Olympics is part of a drive to get 300 million people in the world's most populous nation to "engage" in ski and ice pursuits.
Bach said that goal had already been exceeded.
"Today we can say: China is a winter sports country," he told an International Olympic Committee meeting.
"Everything is in place for a safe and successful Winter Olympics," Bach added.
China and the IOC hope that the rancor that has clouded the build-up will be relegated to the sidelines once the action gets underway.
The sport started Wednesday with curling and there was a smattering of masked fans at the so-called "Ice Cube," the striking venue known as the "Water Cube" when Beijing hosted the 2008 Summer Games, which was seen then as China's coming-out party on the world stage.
Women's hockey and freestyle skiing are also underway.
These Games are taking place in a vast "closed loop" bubble to thwart the coronavirus, with the nearly 3,000 athletes and tens of thousands of support staff, volunteers and media cut off from Beijing's general population.
China, where the virus emerged in late 2019, has pursued a no-nonsense zero-COVID policy nationwide and adopted the same approach to the Games, with everyone cocooned inside the bubble having daily tests and required to wear a mask at all times.
There were 55 positive COVID-19 results among Games-related personnel Wednesday, the highest daily total so far, bringing the number since Jan. 23 to 287.
Eleven people have been hospitalized with the virus but Brian McCloskey, chairman of the medical expert panel for Beijing 2022, said none were seriously ill.
COVID-19 is not the only challenge.
The United States, Britain, Canada and Australia are among countries staging a diplomatic boycott over rights, with the fate of China's Muslim Uyghur minority of particular concern.
Washington accuses China of perpetrating genocide in the region of Xinjiang. China warned that the U.S. would "pay the price" for its diplomatic boycott.
Athletes of the boycotting nations will still compete.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who will attend the opening ceremony as a guest of his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, hit out at the doping sanctions against his country.
In an interview with Chinese media, Putin said: "We oppose the politicization of sports and attempts to use this as an instrument of pressure, unfair competition or discrimination."
Russia, he said, "remains committed to traditional Olympic values".
Moscow was found to have orchestrated a state-backed doping program at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and banned from international competition.
Russian competitors will take part in Beijing, but only under the banner of the "Russian Olympic Committee."
The Games will be held in three zones. In addition to downtown Beijing, the two other areas are outside the capital and will rely on artificially made snow to cover what would otherwise be brown mountainsides.
Eileen Gu has captivated China and looks set to be the face of the Games.
The 18-year-old grade-A student, born and raised in California, switched from the U.S. to represent China and is a hot favorite in freestyle skiing.
There will also be intense interest in Chloe Kim, the American snowboarder who melted hearts when she won gold aged 17 at the Pyeongchang Olympics in 2018.
Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu is looking to make it a hat-trick of figure-skating Olympic titles but faces a stern challenge from his American rival Nathan Chen.
Norway is tipped to top the medals table for a second consecutive Winter Olympics.