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= BEIJING 2022 =
From Lane One
The XXIV Olympic Winter Games opened on a cold evening in Beijing with a spectacular display of China’s technological prowess and ended with an even colder message of the grip of the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
Promised to last about an hour and 40 minutes, the show produced by chief director Zhang Yimou lasted about two hours and 20 minutes in all, with fully half of that time devoted to the parade of the 91 competing National Olympic Committees.
The entertainment elements of the show were subdued, but featured a cast of about 3,000 centered around a snowflake theme and brilliant computer-generated visuals, including the Olympic Rings emerging out of a “block of ice” screen that saluted each of the Winter Games since 1924.
The parade included two first-time Winter Games participants in Haiti and Saudi Arabia, with the largest cheer for the host Chinese, who entered last to an invited audience that filled about 40% of the National Stadium due to Covid precautions, with weather at 26 F at the start of the program.
Mercifully brief speeches were given by Beijing organizing committee chief Cai Qi – also the current Communist Party Secretary of Beijing – and International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach (GER). Bach drew strong applause for this segment:
“You the Olympic athletes – you will show how the world would look like, if we all respect the same rules and each other.
“Over the next two weeks you will compete with each other for the highest prize. At the same time, you will live peacefully together under one roof in the Olympic Village. There, there will be no discrimination for any reason whatsoever.
“In our fragile world, where division, conflict and mistrust are on the rise, we show the world: yes, it is possible to be fierce rivals, while at the same time living peacefully and respectfully together.
“This is the mission of the Olympic Games: bringing us together in peaceful competition. Always building bridges, never erecting walls. Uniting humankind in all our diversity.
“This mission is strongly supported by the United Nations General Assembly. It adopted the Olympic Truce Resolution by consensus of all 193 U.N. Member States. The resolution explicitly mentions you, the Olympic athletes, welcoming how you promote peace and human understanding through the Olympic ideal.
“In this Olympic spirit of peace, I appeal to all political authorities across the world: observe your commitment to this Olympic Truce. Give peace a chance.”
Shortly after, the Olympic flag entered the stadium, followed by the Olympic Flame, carried by a procession of torchbearers born in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and then the 2000s.
The final two torchbearers were 2022 Olympic competitors Jiawen Zhao (21, nordic combined) and 20-year-old Dinigeer Yilamujiang (cross country skiing), the latter said to be of Uyghur heritage from the Xinjiang region, whose treatment by the Chinese government has been harshly criticized around the world.
(Her Olympic database profile identifies her birthplace as Altay in Xinjiang, and that she was originally a distance runner before being selected in 2017 in a cross-sport development program. She debuted in international competition in 2018.)
NBC’s Savannah Guthrie called the obviously politically-motivated choice of Yilamujiang “an in-your-face response” to China’s critics, and reinforced a sub-theme of the ceremony meant for the domestic audience that emphasized Chinese unity.
Interestingly, Zhao and Yilamujiang did not light a traditional cauldron, but simply placed their shared torch inside the giant snowflake, which was made up of entry signs from the parade of nations.
The ceremony was a lesson in how “less can be more.” It did not have the overwhelming human stunts of the 1980 Moscow opening or the 2008 Beijing opening spectacular. But all of the segments were brilliantly produced, with many Western touchpoints, including the music for the athlete parade. But at the last moment, the Chinese Communist Party made a statement that required no words, but was heard loudly around the world.
The Games are on; they will conclude in 16 days. The Olympic Truce period ends on 20 March, seven days after the end of the Winter Paralympic Games.
India announced Thursday that its charge d’affaires from its embassy in Beijing would not attend the ceremonies at the Winter Games in protest over having a Chinese regiment commander from a deadly clash with Indian troops in 2020 as a torchbearer in the Olympic torch relay.
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) told the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China that American athletes competing at the Games should not protest for their own safety:
“I would say to our athletes, ‘You’re there to compete. Do not risk incurring the anger of the Chinese government, because they are ruthless.’ I know there is the temptation on the part of some to speak out while they are there. I respect that. But I also worry about what the Chinese government might do to their reputations, to their families.”
The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation released a “Private Industry Notification” for U.S. delegation members on Tuesday, warning “that malicious cyber actors could use a broad range of cyber activities to disrupt these events” and “The FBI urges all athletes to keep their personal cell phone at home and use a temporary phone while attending the events.”
The Beijing organizers reported Covid positives were down significantly on Thursday (3rd). After a high of 55 total positives on Wednesday, only 21 total positives were recorded, with 14 at the airport and seven inside the closed loop.
Athlete and team officials positives were only two inside the closed loop and seven at the airport for a grand total – since 4 January – of 111 from 5,426 arrivals, or 2.0%.
The positivity rate for other stakeholders is 168 from 9,123 entries, or 1.8%. Total tests inside the closed loop since 4 January have passed the million mark at 1,006,607, with 135 total positives (0.01%).
The U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee reported Friday that there were no new cases of Covid among the 512 members of the delegation in Beijing. The number currently isolated remains at seven, of which two are athletes.
Two contenders for Nordic Combined medals have tested Covid-positive: Norwegian superstar Jarl Magnus Riiber and Germany’s two-time Olympic gold medalist – and six-time medal winner – Eric Frenzel.
Riiber dominated the early part of this season, but then suffered a back injury. He recently returned to the FIS World Cup tour with a victory, but is now unlikely to be able to compete at all.
Both are now in isolation hotels.
~ Rich Perelman
= RESULTS: FRIDAY, 4 FEBRUARY =
No finals prior to the Opening Ceremony, but a few sports continued early competitions.
In the Curling Mixed Doubles, Americans Vicky Persinger and Chris Plys defeated Sweden, 8-7, to level their round-robin record at 2-2. In the 10-team tournament. Italy’s Stefania Constantini and Amos Mosaner are the only undefeated team left at 4-0.
In Figure Skating, the Team event got underway, with Nathan Chen winning the men’s Short Program at 111.71, ahead of Japanese star Shoma Uno (105.46). In the Pairs Short Program, Chinese stars Wenjing Sui and Cong Han edged Russians Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov, 82.83-82.64, with Americans Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier third (75.00). Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue of the U.S. won the Rhythm Dance (86.56) ahead of Russians Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov (85.05). The event continues through Monday.
= PREVIEWS: SAT., 5 FEBRUARY =
(6 events across 6 disciplines)
● Biathlon: Mixed Team Relay 4×6.0 km
This specific format has not been held this season, but Norway won a mixed 4×7.5 km relay in January in Germany with brothers Tarjei and Johannes Thingnes Boe, Marte Olsbu Roeiseland and Ingrid Tandrevold. They’re the favorites, with France, Germany, Sweden and Italy strong contenders for medals as well.
The French are defending champs, but Norway has been gold-silver and Italy, bronze-bronze, in the two times this event has been held in the Winter Games.
● Cross Country Skiing: Women’s 15 km Skiathlon
A big field of 65 starters will tackle the Skiathlon, with 7.5 km of Classical skiing and 7.5 km of Freestyle. This event has not been held during the FIS World Cup season, but many eyes will be on Norwegian star Therese Johaug.
Kept out of PyeongChang due to a doping suspension, Johaug won this event in the 2015, 2019 and 2021 World Championships and at 33, is highly motivated for the Beijing Games. She has two golds and two silvers in 10 km events on the World Cup circuit and has to be the favorite.
But there are plenty of quality challengers, including Russian World Cup leader Natalya Nepryaeva, Swedes Ebba Andersson and Frida Karlsson and even Americans Jessie Diggins and Rosie Brennan.
● Freestyle Skiing: Men’s Moguls
Defending champion Mikael Kingsbury (CAN) is the favorite here, as he has won more World Cup events than anyone in history: 71, including four of the seven World Cup events this season.
The other three wins belong to Japan’s Ikuma Horishima, a clear favorite for a medal, with Sweden’s Walter Wallberg, France’s Benjamin Cavet and American Bradley Wilson also in the mix.
● Short Track: Mixed Team Relay
This is a new event at the Winter Games, held over 2,000 m, with China the favorite after two wins, a second and a third in the four World Cup races this season.
The Dutch have a win and a second, Hungary has a silver and bronze, with Canada, France and South Korea also medal contenders.
● Ski Jumping: Women’s Normal Hill (106 m)
This event was upended when seasonal leader Marita Kramer (AUT) – winner of six of the 11 events in the World Cup this season – tested positive for Covid and cannot compete.
So, the likely contenders are Katharina Althaus (GER), Japan’s Sara Takanashi and the Slovenian trio of Nika Kriznar, Ema Klinec and Ursa Bogataj. Kriznar has two World Cup wins this season, with Althaus, Klinec and Takanashi with one each, But Althaus, with six medals in 11 World Cup events this season, has been the most consistent and was the silver medalist (ahead of Takanashi) in 2018.
● Speed Skating: Women’s 3,000 m
Four World Cup stops this season and Dutch star Irene Schouten has won three of them, with Italy’s Francesca Lollobrigida – a cousin of the famous film star Gina – taking the other. They’re in the final pairing and are the favorites.
However, Canadian Isabelle Weidemann and Norway’s Ragne Wiklund have also been strong on the World Cup circuit and are matched in the penultimate pairing. The 2018 gold and bronze medalists from the Netherlands, Carlijn Achtereekte and Antoinette de Jong, are also back, along with ageless Czech star Martina Sabilkova, 34, the 2010 gold medalist and a six-time World Champion at this distance.
= BEYOND BEIJING =
● World University Games: 2027 ● The International University Sports Federation (FISU) made it official, announcing two candidates for the 2027 Games, North Carolina in the U.S. and the Chungcheong Megacity in South Korea.
The award will be made in October 2022, with site visits in September.
Both are regional bids; North Carolina’s regional bid includes the cities of Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, Cary, and Greensboro, in an area with 19 colleges and universities including five universities of the University of North Carolina system. The North Carolina bid announcement noted:
“The staging of the Games in North Carolina would be within the same footprint as was used in 1987 to host the U.S. Olympic Festival, which still holds the record as the largest sports event ever staged in North Carolina with attendance of over 464,000. North Carolina has proposed the dates of Tuesday, July 13 through Sunday, July 25, 2027, as the preferred dates for hosting the Games. The year 2027 would actually mark the 40th Anniversary of the U.S. Olympic Festival in North Carolina.”
Korea’s bid is centered on the cities and provinces of Daejeon, Sejong, Chungbuk, and Chungnam, with a combined population of about 5.8 million. Korea hosted the WUG in 2003 and 2015; the U.S. has hosted the summer event once, in Buffalo in 1993.
● National Olympic Committees ● The U.S. Department of State has gotten in on sanctions against Belarusian sports officials, with the imposition of “visa restrictions on Belarusian nationals under the ‘Khashoggi Ban,’ a tool the Administration announced last year to counter transnational repression.
“Today’s actions target multiple Belarusian nationals for their involvement in serious, extraterritorial counter-dissident activity. The United States condemns all such activity, including the attempt to forcibly repatriate Belarusian Olympian Krystsina Tsimanouskaya during the Tokyo Summer Olympic Games last year.”
Thursday’s announcement further stated:
“The United States applauds the Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation’s efforts to support and protect the human rights of athletes amid the Lukashenka regime’s violent crackdown and ongoing repression of Belarusians inside and outside the country. We stand in solidarity with Ms. Tsimanouskaya and all others who have experienced the regime’s attempts to silence criticism.”
● Anti-Doping ● The World Anti-Doping Agency announced that Indonesia and Thailand are now in compliance with the World Anti-Doping Code. Indonesia has rectified “non-conformities in implementing an effective testing program” and Thailand has fully implemented the Code and corrected its testing program.
WADA noted that “There are currently two remaining non-compliant Code Signatories. They are the [national anti-doping organizations] from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Russia.”
● Athletics ● An important milestone for the American Track League, as Puma was announced as title sponsor with a three-year commitment to the program.
The 2022 schedule is slated to start indoors on 12 February in Louisville, Kentucky. A total of eight meets are presently scheduled, with ESPN again partnering for broadcast.
● Swimming ● USA Swimming canceled the Tyr Pro Swim Series meet for Des Moines, Iowa from 2-5 March, explaining:
“[I]t was decided that the TYR Pro Swim Series event in Des Moines, which was planned as a qualifying meet for the Phillips 66 International Team Trials in April and in turn the world championships, would also subsequently be cancelled. Given the movements on the international calendar, USA Swimming is reviewing its domestic calendar to ensure it provides the best competitive opportunities at the most impactful times.”
The next logical step will be to cancel the International Team Trials as well, since no team needs to be selected. The U.S. Nationals are not until the end of July.
The NCAA’s Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports will apparently meet at the end of February to consider the impact of the new USA Swimming regulations for transgender competitors, and make recommendations to the Board of Governors.
The women’s Division I swimming and diving championships will be held from 16-19 March in Atlanta.
● Wrestling ● Iran has pulled out of the 12 February Bout at the Ballpark in Arlington, Texas, designed to showcase collegiate and international wrestling in a single program.
The Iranians complained that six members of its 35-person delegation – slated to meet the U.S. in a men’s Freestyle dual – had not been granted visas. USA Wrestling noted that it “has no input on the decisions regarding the issuing of visas, it has regularly communicated directly with the Iranian Wrestling Federation about what it needed to do regarding the U.S. visa process.”
The U.S. federation has asked the Iranians to reconsider, but the show will go on no matter what, per the announcement: “An alternate plan for the men’s freestyle portion of the Bout at the Ballpark if Iran does not change its mind is currently being put into place, with an international all-star team being created that would compete against the United States.”
USA Wrestling Executive Director Rich Bender also recalled that Iran has traveled to the U.S. for wrestling competitions 16 times since 1995. But then the Iranians almost never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity for their athletes and the sport.
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