Beijing Olympics Closing Ceremony: End of Controversial and Troubled Winter Games in China

BEIJING — After 17 days of competition — and controversy — across Beijing and surrounding areas, the 2022 Winter Olympics have come to a close. On Sunday night in China, the Closing Ceremony took place at the Bird’s Nest, marking the official end of the second pandemic-era Games in six months. Below, Sports IllustratedThe team of writers deliver their latest findings on Beijing, where athletic competition and the Olympic spirit have undoubtedly been overshadowed by doping accusations, ongoing disputes and growing geopolitical tensions.

These were two difficult weeks for those who want to believe in the value of the Olympics. There have been so many reasons to feel discouraged: The pervasive pandemic that has completely cut us off from the people of Beijing. Genocide that the host country government claims not to commit. The level of surveillance and authoritarianism that meant athletes and journalists were given cellphones. The corruption that allowed an eternal cheater to compete here in slightly different uniforms. The imminent war threatened by this same country.

After Valieva collapsed, Shcherbakova won gold in women's figure skating.

After Valieva collapsed, Shcherbakova won gold in women’s figure skating.

Somehow, athletes always manage to redeem this company, with blistering performances and raw emotion. But this time, the emotion I will remember most was for women’s figure skaters on Thursday, when gold medal favorite Kamila Valieva, competing under a cloud of doping suspicion, faltered in her free skate and rewrote the ranking. Anna Shcherbakova, the 17-year-old who won gold, sat stunned and alone. Alexandra Trusova, the 17-year-old silver medalist, was sobbing and threatening to quit on the spot because her historic program wasn’t enough to win. And Valieva, 15, curled up, chest heaving, her dreams shattered. What do we do to these children?

Is it all worth it? I think it could still be. But we need to rethink how we do it. —Stephanie Apstein

A talent agent sits in an office. The president of the most powerful sports governing body in the world enters. “Okay,” the agent said. “Let’s see what you can do.”

What follows is an unbridled and unparalleled display of impressive individual accomplishments. A figure skater performs five flawless quadruple jumps as “Rocketman” roars. A snowboarder rumbles down ramps and rollers to conquer his personal demons. A black speed skater makes history just five years after stepping onto the ice for the first time. Bobsledders break down gender barriers. Legends take their encores. Skiers soar through the air, performing death-defying stunts. A record number of LGTBQ athletes are able to show their pride on the world stage.

“But wait!” exclaims the president. “There is more!”

Sports Illustrated photographer Erick W. Rasco poses with workers in hazmat suits.

Sports Illustrated photographer Erick W. Rasco poses with workers in hazmat suits.

What follows is an unbridled and unparalleled display of disgusting institutional failure. A cross-country skier is selected to light a cauldron, clearing the charges of genocide against her people. A tennis star stepped out for a photo op before once again disappearing from the public eye. A skeleton racer begs a nation, whose systematic doping is punished by nothing more than a name change, not to invade its homeland. Fake snow siphons water from an impoverished region. Athletes sob in isolation. A coach is allowed to abuse his star figure skater, a child, on the world stage.

Nodding, the agent said, “So what’s your name?”

And the president replies: “The Olympic Games! —Alex Prewitt

These are the third Olympic Games in a row in Asia, and each one featured oppressive weather: unbelievably cold in the mountain range of PyeongChang, Korea; oppressive heat in Tokyo; sub-zero temperatures in Zhangjiakou, China. It had a real effect on the competition, which meant it was an inevitable part of the story. As climate change continues to wreak havoc on the planet, the Olympics could serve as a biannual showcase for extreme weather.

This is not the first message that the International Olympic Committee wants to send to the world, but it cannot avoid it. Some top Olympic athletes are involved with Protect Our Winters, an organization trying to tackle climate change, and hopefully more are getting involved. The future of more than the Winter Olympics is in jeopardy. —Michael Rosenberg

More Winter Olympics coverage:

• Rosenberg: It’s not easy to be in “sports prison” at the Beijing Olympics
• Siblings compete and support each other at the Olympics
From Putin’s warmongering to the Valieva scandal, Russia besieges the Beijing Games

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