The Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics Delivers Despite COVID-19 Restrictions

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The 24th Winter Olympics began three weeks ago, on Feb. 4th, 2022. Ninety-one countries gathered at China’s capital of Beijing amidst strict COVID-19 guidelines to compete for gold in a plethora of intense sports. After two weeks of competition, the five countries with the most medals are Norway, Germany, the United States, Sweden, and China. To crack the top three is an amazing feat for the U.S. since just last week they were ranked at 17th place, yet to claim a gold medal.  

This year’s Winter Olympics has been tough for athletes and the International Olympic Committee (IOC)—as China prepared to reopen its borders following the initial waves of the COVID-19 pandemic. Athletes, their teams, and the media are confined to hotels, competition venues, and conference centers in what is known as the “bubble” — a 100-mile area in Beijing. This area contains specific travel lanes that attendants must follow while moving about. To prevent COVID-19 spread, PCR tests are administered every day and a positive result warrants a seven-day quarantine. In the case of U.S. figure skater Vincent Zhou, a positive test meant the end of his Olympic competition, though he will perform in the closing exhibition gala after clearing quarantine.  

Despite all the hoops contestants had to jump through to be granted entry into Beijing, this year’s Winter Olympics did not disappoint. Viewers, as usual, flocked to the most popular sports: figure skating, snowboarding, skiing, ice hockey, and ski jumping. Last week, U.S. snowboarder Julia Marino won the first medal for Team USA after claiming silver in the women’s snowboarding slopestyle. The first gold for the U.S. came from Lindsey Jacobellis, who won the women’s snowboarding cross event. 

However, it hasn’t all been victories for Team USA. Five-time U.S. Olympic snowboarder Shaun White made his last run on the men’s halfpipe, coming in at fourth place, bringing a bittersweet end to his career. More prominently, American-born freestyle skier Eileen Gu sparked controversy when she chose to renounce her U.S. citizenship and compete for China, raising questions about the special treatment she received as an American competing under Chinese citizenship. 

Holly Reed, Associate Professor of Sociology at Queens College, provided some insight on the matter. Reed explains, “I think that the controversy…is mainly political. There seems to be more commentary about this if a U.S. athlete competes for a geopolitical rival…so it is viewed by some as a betrayal of the United States. If they are world-class, but not quite good enough to make a top team, then they can still have the opportunity of a lifetime to compete.”  

On the ice rink, U.S. figure skater Nathan Chen set a world record for highest score in his short program and won his first gold medal in the men’s singles, skating to “Rocket Man” by Elton John. He was followed by Yuma Kagiyama and Shoma Uno of Japan. Fan favorite, and two-time Olympic medalist, Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu came in fourth after failing to complete a quadruple axel, a jump that has yet to be done in competition. 

It was also an emotional week for ice hockey fans as the men’s U.S. hockey team had their first victory against Canada in 12 years with a score of 4-2. Following their win, the U.S. faced a heartbreaking 3-2 loss against Slovakia in Wednesday’s quarterfinals. This is the team’s third Winter Olympics without a medal.  

The Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics closing ceremony took place on Sunday, February 20th at the Beijing National Stadium. The 25th Winter Olympics will be held in Milan, Italy in 2026.

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