BEIJING (AP) – Before he got out of town, the great Canadian snowboarder Mark McMorris called the Beijing Games a version of “sports prison.”
He was joking – sort of — but his vision wasn’t that far off.
The terrarium of a Winter Games that has been Beijing 2022 wound to its end Sunday, capping an unprecedented Asian Olympic trifecta and sending the planet’s most global sporting event off to the West for the foreseeable future, with no chance of returning to this corner of the world until at least 2030.
It was weird. It was messy and, at the same time, somehow sterile. It was controlled and calibrated in ways only Xi Jinping’s China could pull off. And it was sequestered in a “bubble” that kept participants and the city around them – and, by extension, the sporadically watching world — at arm’s length.
By many mechanical measures, these Games were a success. They were, in fact, quite safe – albeit in the carefully modulated, dress-up-for-company way that authoritarian governments always do best. The local volunteers, as is usually the case, were delightful, helpful and engaging.
“The Chinese people embraced these Games. Even in the closed loop, we could make this experience of excitement, of warmth, of hospitality and of friendliness,” International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said Friday.
This 17-day journey, however, has been witnessed through a sealed-off looking glass — a lens warped and sterilized by Beijing’s organizing committee with underwriting from the Chinese government.
The ultimate sponsor: the International Olympic Committee, which has been under fire for producing Games that, to many, have felt soulless while also being tainted by scandal and political posturing.
“I think that sometimes it doesn’t seem like their heart is in the right place,” the outspoken freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy said. “It feels like it’s a greed game. I mean, the Olympics are so incredible. But it’s a TV show.”
The biggest scandal of the Olympics involved 15-year-old Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva, who helped Russia win gold in the team event, but was found to have failed a pre-Olympics drug test, which wasn’t revealed until after the team competition.
Valieva was cleared to compete by Court of Arbitration for Sport, which ruled among other things that she had protected status as a minor and would suffer “irreparable harm” if she was not allowed to perform. She ended up finishing fourth after mistake-filled skate, who was later seen sobbing in the kiss-and-cry area. Her coach, Eteri Tutberidze, who was seen on camera telling a visibly upset Valieva “Why did you let it go? Why did you stop fighting?”
Bach later criticized Valieva‘s entourage for their “tremendous coldness” toward her, calling it “chilling” to see on television.
The entire ordeal has led some skating officials to propose raising the minimum age for elite figure skating competitions from 15 to 17, ahead of the 2026 Winter Olympics in Italy.
So, as the IOC pulls up stakes from Beijing, it has 29 months to hit the reset button and hope for a different, COVID-free and much better vibe when the Summer Games go to Paris.