Beijing closes its Games with theater, music and no mention of controversy
By Mace Yampolsky
The 2022 Winter Olympic Games, a dynamic showcase of international sports shadowed by the coronavirus pandemic and sharp debate over China’s worthiness as the host nation, ended on Sunday night in Beijing with an elaborate closing ceremony and a final flicker of the Olympic flame.
The closing ceremony in the Chinese capital was, as Olympic events ordinarily are, a display of theater, music and cultural traditions that did not dwell on, or even acknowledge, troubles surrounding the Games, including pre-Olympic concerns about China’s human rights record and a doping dispute that had some questioning the fairness of competition in figure skating, one of the most popular events of the Games.
The Games’ final night was a mesmerizing performance of light and sound that stretched out more than an hour and was punctuated by fireworks. Far from the edgy atmosphere that surrounded the Games when they opened on Feb. 4, when many people in the so-called Olympic bubble feared the fallout of testing positive for the coronavirus, Sunday’s event had the feeling of a soundtracked, choreographed relief valve.
Many people tied to these Games, though, were absent, having already left China to avoid the country’s stringent pandemic protocols. The next Winter Games will be held in Milan and Cortina, Italy, in 2026. After more than two weeks of competitions and about 1.8 million coronavirus tests, the Beijing Games have concluded. As if on cue, an image of President Xi Jinping of China pops up on the big screen and thousands of people in the stands clap their noisemakers — right in the middle of a speech by the Communist party secretary of Beijing.
Can’t we get through the games without politics? The games will be remembered for some classic meltdowns. The Russian 15-year-old, Kamila Valieva , who was favored in the women’s ice skating went down in flames She stumbled and fell twice, during her free skate program dropping out of medal contention. But she paved the way for two other Russian skaters that won silver and gold. There was a doping scandal and she was right in the middle of it. She tested positive for a banned substance before the Games but still was allowed to compete. Apparently, the pressure got to her.
There was another favorite who choked (no other word for it). Mikaela Shiffrin of the U.S. finished no better than ninth in five individual races while failing to cross the finish line entirely in three of them, an outcome that would have been unthinkable a fortnight ago when the three-time overall World Cup champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist arrived with designs on Janica Kostelac’s women’s record of four medals at a single Winter Games. But she went home empty-handed. That’s why you play the game.
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