A celebration of winter sport
Held every four years, the Winter Olympics are a celebration of sports on snow and ice. The first Winter Olympics were held in 1924 in Chamonix, France and this year, 98 years after the first Games, the Winter Olympics were held in Beijing, China from 4 to 20 February. Beijing, which previously held the 2008 Summer Olympics, is the first city in history to host both the Summer and Winter Olympics.
Given the continuation of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the Games were held in a “closed loop,” which allowed the 60,000 athletes, coaches, officials, federation delegations, volunteers and media personnel to only move between their accommodation and the venues in official transport, and barred them from moving freely in public.
Human rights concerns
Even before they started, controversy shrouded the Games when in late 2021, the US announced a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics due to China’s human rights violations against the Uyghur population in Xinjiang. Soon after, other countries such as Canada, the UK and Australia also joined in. While athletes were allowed to compete, no official delegations were sent by the countries to the Games.
A day before the Games began in China, Tibetan activists marched on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, accusing the IOC of complicity in atrocities committed against minorities in China.
China has maintained a strong stance in denying all allegations of human rights abuses.
The show goes on
Despite the controversies surrounding the host nation, the Games began on 4 February. Here are some highlights from the Games this year:
- Seven new events were added to the Games this year, including the women’s monobob, men’s and women’s big air skiing, short track speed skating mixed relay, mixed team ski jumping, mixed team snowboard cross and aerials mixed team.
- These were the most gender-equal Winter Olympics to date, with 45% of the athletes being female, up from 41% during Pyeongchang. However, much work still remains to be done to achieve gender equity at the Games.
- Norway topped the medal table with 37 medals, 16 of which were gold. They were followed by Germany in second place, with 27 medals, and China in third place with 15.
- Multiple doping scandals rocked the Games. Russia’s 15-year-old figure skater Kamila Valieva’s results from a previous sample came positive, raising concerns over the country’s doping practices and child safeguarding issues. Though she was allowed to continue competing, she crashed out in the women’s figure skating finals, coming in fourth place. Ukraine’s cross-country skier Valentyna Kaminska and Iranian Alpine skier Hossein Saveh Shemshaki both failed their doping tests and have been provisionally suspended from all competitions.
- American Erin Jackson won gold in the women’s 500-meter speed skating event, becoming the first Black woman to bag a medal in speed skating at the Winter Olympics.
- New Zealand won their first ever Winter Olympic gold as snowboarder Zoi Sadowski Synnott won the women’s slopestyle event. She also won silver in the women’s big air event, becoming the first New Zealander to win multiple medals at a Winter Olympics.
- Germany made a historic win in the two-man bobsleigh event, winning all three medals. This is the first time a single nation has won all medals in a bobsleigh event at the Winter Olympics.
- Issues arose around the isolation facilities provided by organisers for those tested positive at the Games. The German delegation said the rooms were too small and not clean enough, and Russian athlete Valeria Vasnetsova complained about the sub-par quality of the food provided.
- Ukrainian skeleton athlete Vladyslav Heraskevych held up a sign, in the colours of his country’s flags, which said “No War in Ukraine” after finishing a run at the Games. The IOC, which has strict rules around political messaging at the Games, said that since the sign was a general call for peace, no action would be taken against Heraskevych.
- At least 36 out LGBTQ+ athletes were at the Games this year, more than double compared to four years ago. This included American figure skater Timothy LeDuc, who became the first non-binary athlete to compete at a Winter Olympics.
- Dutch speed skater Ireen Wüst made Olympic history when she won gold in the 1500 meter event, becoming the first athlete to claim individual gold medals at five Olympic Games.
- These Olympics were the first to rely almost entirely on artificial snow to create the conditions needed for many of the events. It is clear that climate change is impacting the Games – ideal conditions for events such as alpine skiing are getting harder to find naturally. The long-term impact of artificial snow, which is harder and denser than natural snow, is uncertain and many have expressed concerns about the repercussions on the soil, animals and plants in the region.
- The Siberian anticyclone – a weather condition which leads to large-scale circulation of winds – resulted in extreme windchill temperatures. The freezing conditions and high winds meant that the 50 kilometer cross-country event was shortened to 28 kilometers, due to safety concerns.
- The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China (FCCC), a professional association of Beijing-based journalist that report on China for international audiences, complained that reporting conditions at the Games fell short of international standards. The FCCC stated that Chinese government interference was rife, both inside and outside the Games venue, and journalists were being abused online for their coverage of the Games, often fueled by Chinese state media accounts.
- Freestyle skier Eileen Gu was a crowd favourite. A Chinese-American, Gu chose to compete for China instead of the US to inspire girls in her mother’s homeland, a decision which led to severe backlash from many Americans. However, the 18-year-old had a very successful run at the Games, winning two golds and one silver, becoming the first freestyle skier to win three medals at a single Games. An unprecedented number of foreign-born athletes competed on behalf of China for the Games, with around three-quarters of Team China being made up of such athletes.
The closing ceremony on 20 February ended Beijing’s Winter Olympics run for 2022, and the baton was passed over to Milan, the host of the next Winter Olympics in 2026.
Beijing is now preparing for the Winter Paralympic Games, which will start on 4 March and welcome over 600 athletes from around the world.
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