Conflicts and scandal overshadow the 2022 Beijing Olympics

Claire Xu, Arts Writer

“Hey, the USA’s winning!” my friend pointed out while we sat with our lunch trays, gazing up at the giant projector screen that was broadcasting the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in 2018. The cafeteria of sixth graders gasped in unison as a snowboarder made twists and turns in the air. We were so busy marveling at the athletes that we didn’t finish eating that day.

That year, the principal of my middle school played segments of the Olympics during lunch. The world’s biggest sports competition was a big deal for me— I’d watch it at lunch, then go home and watch some more with my family.

I don’t ski, skate, or snowboard, but nonetheless, it was a magical experience.

Then the pandemic hit, and the 2020 Summer Games that I’d been looking forward to were postponed. In previous years, because I didn’t have school, I’d spend my summer nights watching live broadcasts of the Summer events, but now, even though I was at home all day, there was nothing to watch.

Leading up to the Tokyo Olympics that were held in the summer of 2021, I didn’t feel the same amount of excitement that I’d felt in previous years. 

Was it because of the anxiety of the pandemic? Perhaps with the deadly virus on our hands, we couldn’t find the energy and spirit for the Games.

Maybe I’d lost interest? After all, I didn’t follow any of the sports at the Games, and I was busier now. I couldn’t sit down every night to watch.

Did the protests in Japan, calling for the Games to be postponed further due to COVID, impact my eagerness to follow such a controversial Summer Olympics?

Personally, the 2020 Summer Olympics passed like a blur. I sat down to watch it a few times, and I remember little. Then, before I knew it, the 2022 Winter Olympics arrived in Beijing.

This year, the Games were clouded with controversy. Multiple countries diplomatically boycotted the games, citing human rights violations. These include the brutal repression of the ethnic minority of Uyghur (pronounced WEE-gur) Muslims in Xinjiang and the disappearance of Peng Shuai, a Chinese tennis player who accused a top government official of sexual assault.

The opening ceremony of the Games became somewhat of a political statement, as one of the two final torch-bearers, Dinigeer Yilamujiang, was of Uyghur descent. This was viewed as a reaction to the criticism and condemnation of China as the Olympic host and left a bitter taste in the mouths of many viewers around the world.

Seeing political tensions being brought into the Games, where countries come together in appreciation of sports, was saddening.. Year after year, Olympic mottos focus on unity and togetherness. It is an opportunity to come together, despite cultural differences and conflicts.

I personally love watching figure skating, and it was the main factor in me keeping up with the Games this year. I tuned in to watch nearly all the events with my family and some friends, and I actually enjoyed it a lot.

However, about halfway through the Games, the doping scandal surrounding young star skater Kamila Valieva from Russia swept the scene. A positive test from December 2021 revealed that she had ingested trimetazidine, a banned drug that can increase blood flow to the heart, enhancing endurance. It shocked many, including myself, as she was widely recognized as the top contender for Olympic gold in the women’s individual competition.

There were heated debates online over whether or not she should be allowed to continue to compete (and even more over the IOC’s eventual decision to let her continue competing, but cancel the medal ceremony if she did make it onto the podium). These were centered around the fact that she is only 15 and still a child.

A disastrous women’s free skate ensued. It was painful to watch girls my age having their Olympic dreams crushed live on television and seeing the actions of their coaches and team—Valieva was criticized right as she got off the ice after multiple falls, and the gold winner, Anna Shcherbakova, was left stunned with no one to celebrate with.

This raised a much-needed debate over whether there should be age limits for athletes in the Olympics. Preparation for one of the biggest competitions they could possibly enter in their career, not to mention the actual competing, is immensely stressful and taxing. 

However, people, including Olympic skaters, have argued that 15-17 is the peak performance age for female skaters, and if age limits were to be imposed, a lot of talent would be wasted.

Despite this, it is clear that without proper support, children, who are more vulnerable than adults, are exposed to situations that they should never go through in immensely high-stakes competitions like the Olympics. Valieva’s case serves as a cruel example of this.

This year’s Olympics were definitely a spectacle—from being the second Olympics to take place during a global pandemic, with no overseas spectators in the stands, to evidence of political strains interwoven in the events and a shocking doping scandal which exposed many issues with the figure skating and athletic world. The 2022 Games also allowed many athletes to achieve their dreams of competing at the Olympics and earning a medal, showing their perseverance and grit. I congratulate all the athletes that competed, and I hope the 2026 Winter Olympics in Italy will be less scandalous and focus more on the original purpose of the Olympics—unity and a stage for athletes to showcase their talents and achieve their dreams.