Photo taken on Feb. 26, 2017 shows the performance of the closing ceremony of the 2017 Sapporo Asian Winter Games in Sapporo, Japan. (Xinhua/Xia Yifang)
With the Asian Winter Games winding down without a glitch in Sapporo, it is time for the three-time host of the continental event to seriously consider a bid for the Winter Olympics.
Sapporo was the first Asian city to host the Winter Games, and its 1972 Olympic legacy still lasts to this day.
Most of the Asian Games competitions, including Alpine skiing, snowboarding, ski jumping, biathlon and ice hockey, were held on renovated 1972 venues, winning a nod from the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) President Sheikh Ahmad Al Fahad Al Sabah, who said Sapporo has all the facilities needed to hold the Winter Olympics for a second time.
Sapporo officials said they are considering a bid for 2026, but nothing official has yet been decided.
"Our citizens' interest in bidding for the Winter Olympics is rising," said Sapporo mayor Katsuhiro Akimoto, also the chief organizer of the Winter Asiad.
The OCA president is warm to the prospect of a Sapporo bid for the 2026 Games, saying the city "is capable and ready."
A successful bid would mean the IOC returning to a city in Asia for a third straight time following PyeongChang in 2018 and Beijing in 2022.
The Japanese Olympic Committee has yet openly voiced its support for a 2026 bid, keeping in mind that Tokyo is hosting the Summer Olympics in 2020.
Sapporo's abilities in organizing big games have been recognized by the 2022 host.
"I am impressed with their savvy, diligence and efficiency," said Wang Yanxiao, head of a six-member "learning team" sent by the 2022 organizing committee.
"We come to learn," added Wang, "especially in the areas of personnel management, tech support, venue design and construction, post-games use of facilities and venues, as well as media service."
Wang noted a deeply-rooted winter sports tradition in Sapporo.
"In addition to natural resources, Sapporo has a great winter sports tradition and a perfect atmosphere, as well as a deep pool of winter sports personnel," Wang said.
Wei Jizhong, an OCA honorary life vice president, gave glowing marks to Sapporo.
"People here are enthusiastic about winter sports, and they are very nice," said Wei.
"They are cheering for figure skaters from south Asia even though they tumbled on the ice. Volunteers are very helpful, and 79 percent of tickets were sold out," he added.
Bidding applications for 2026 are expected to be due early in 2018 and the International Olympic Committee will decide a winner in 2019.