Thursday, June 13

Curtain falls on Winter Olympics in Beijing


Beijing doused its Olympic flame on Sunday night, closing the winter games that will be remembered for the extremes of its anti-COVID-19 measures and outrage over the doping scandal that enveloped 15-year-old Russian skating sensation Kamila Valieva.

According to Reuters, Chinese President Xi Jinping was on hand for the snowflake-themed ceremony at the Bird’s Nest stadium, where International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach described the Beijing Games as “truly exceptional” before declaring them closed.

The Beijing Games, contained inside a “closed loop”, were the second Olympics in six months to be deprived by COVID-19 of much of its festivity, the news agency further reported.

They were also stalked by politics, with several countries staging a diplomatic boycott over China’s human rights record, and the spectre of invasion of Ukraine by Russia, with President Vladimir Putin attending the opening ceremony in a show of solidarity against the West with Xi.

Still, China was spared any embarrassing protests by competitors over its treatment of the Uyghur Muslim minority or anything else, and the thousands of foreign journalists on hand were stuck inside the closed-loop, unable to report more widely.

According to Reuters, Sunday night’s ceremony was capped by a 90-second fireworks display that spelled out “one world, one family,” followed by a rendition of “Auld Lang Syne”.

During the ceremony, Bach praised Beijing’s organisers and made a call for unity as well as universal access to COVID-19 vaccines.

Beijing’s tightly sealed bubble prevented the spread of the novel coronavirus at the Olympics or into the community, vindicating a zero-COVID policy that has isolated China inside what are nearly closed borders that shows no sign of easing. However, many athletes had their Olympic dreams dashed by positive tests that prevented them from competing.

Dozens saw their preparations disrupted by enforced isolation, leading team officials and athletes to demand improved conditions including better food, internet, training equipment and more space.

China’s nine gold medals exceeded expectations, putting it in third place, while winter sports powerhouse Norway, with a population of just 5.5 million, won a record 16.

The biggest legacy of the Beijing Olympics will be the controversy surrounding Valieva, who stumbled under pressure in her final skate, and the outrage directed towards Russian sports officials and the country’s history of doping, which meant its athletes could not compete under Russia’s flag.

Valieva failed a doping test at her national championships in December but the result was only revealed on February 8, a day after she helped the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) win the team event.

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