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Winter Olympics closed after drama, doping and gold Gu



A Beijing Winter Olympics, which saw sporting drama and milestones but was tainted by a Russian doping scandal, ended Sunday with an uplifting closing ceremony.

The Games will be remembered for new stars such as Eileen Gu, but also for the doping controversy that engulfed 15-year-old figure skater Kamila Valieva and for taking place in a huge Covid-safe “bubble”.

The “Bird’s Nest” stadium, which also took center stage when Beijing hosted the 2008 Summer Games, was the scene for a snowflake-themed festive closing ceremony attended by President Xi Jinping and a socially distancing crowd seated among red lanterns.

Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, declared the Games closed and handed it over to Milan-Cortina in 2026. He praised an “unforgettable Olympic experience”.

There was no feared massive outbreak of Covid at the Games or in the wider community in the Chinese capital, but Bach said: “If we want to finally overcome this pandemic, we have to be faster, we have to aim higher, we have to be stronger – we must be strong together.

“In this Olympic spirit of solidarity, we call on the international community: give everyone everywhere in the world equal access to vaccines.”

Fireworks lit up the night sky as the ceremony reached its climax and spelled out the words “ONE WORLD”.

Doping overshadows Games

Since the opening ceremony on February 4, a new global star has appeared in the form of 18-year-old freestyle skier Gu, who was born in California but moved to China in 2019 and became the unofficial face of the Games.

There was a new champion in men’s figure skating in United States 22-year-old Nathan Chen, who dethroned two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu in what could be the Japanese legend’s final appearance at an Olympics.

Another iconic figure of winter sports, American snowboarder Shaun White, will certainly not be returning to competition after he retired.

The 35-year-old’s final event ended painfully out of the medals and he was in tears as he said goodbye to snowboarding – “the love of my life”.

There was bitter disappointment for his compatriot, the alpine skier Mikaela Shiffrin, one of the biggest names at the Games but who went home without a medal.

There were tears for Valieva after it was revealed she had failed a drug test prior to the Games, bringing her to the forefront of yet another Russian doping controversy for ruining an Olympic Games and putting intense pressure on the teenager.

In what will become an infamous episode in the history of the Winter Olympics, the pre-tournament favorite for singles gold fell to the ice several times in the final, to the audible gasp of the socially distancing crowd of hand-picked spectators.

Her doping case will certainly drag on in the coming months, long after the Games have ended. She was allowed to skate in the Chinese capital, but was not acquitted of doping.

In a first competition, the skating team medals were not awarded after Valieva played a key role in propelling the Russians to gold, ahead of the United States and Japan.

The American skaters filed an 11-hour court offer on Saturday to get their hands on their medals before going home, but the Court of Arbitration for Sport turned it down.

Milestones

China and its ruling Communist Party will look back on a soft power success.

Fears of a massive Covid outbreak in the “closed loop” bubble that sealed the nearly 3,000 athletes and about 65,000 others have never materialized.

However, some athletes caught the disease and the pandemic was never far away – the ice hockey teams of Russia and Canada played against each other in medical masks after the results of their daily PCR tests failed to arrive in time.

Human rights concerns dominated the build-up, with the United States leading a diplomatic boycott by its closest allies over China’s rights record, especially the plight of Xinjiang’s Muslim Uyghur minority. However, their athletes did participate.

China warned in the fraught build-up that foreign athletes who criticize authorities could face consequences, but in the end all protests against the hosts were extremely muted.

There were numerous records, including American bobsleigher Elana Meyers Taylor who became the most decorated black athlete in the history of the Winter Olympics.

Snowboarder Zoi Sadowski Synnott made history for New Zealand, winning her country’s first gold at the Winter Games; with Gu two golds, the hosts enjoyed a significant medal bump, finishing third in the medal table with nine golds.

That was easily their best performance at the Winter Games, a venue for the United States’ main geopolitical rival, with eight gold medals.

For the second Games in a row, Norway led the medals with 16 golds. Germany came in second at 12.

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