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Winter Olympics: 3,000 snowflakes and a Uyghur skier

For both winners and losers alike, an air of unreality hangs over these games

In 2008, when China hosted the summer Olympics, it was a “flawless, military operation”, said Owen Slot in The Times. The contrast with this year’s Winter Olympics in Beijing couldn’t be starker. The inadequacy of provisions has been evident in everything from the treatment of those who’ve tested positive for Covid-19 to the facilities on the slopes and the ice rinks. At the Alpine skiing venue, the lack of hot meals has forced the US team to take their “own dried pasta up the mountain”. And horror stories emanating from the quarantine hotels where hundreds of athletes have been lodged – about the inedible food; the lack of Wi-Fi; the capricious treatment by the authorities – are legion, said Sean Ingle in The Guardian. “My stomach hurts, I’m very pale and I have huge black circles around my eyes,” Russian biathlete Valeria Vasnetsova posted from her hotel. “I want all this to end.” A Polish skater in another isolation hotel said she cries “until I have no more tears”. 

As for the sports themselves, Team GB’s campaign got off to a decidedly underwhelming start, said Riath Al-Samarrai in the Daily Mail. In the opening few days, several medal hopefuls failed to qualify: Katie Ormerod “botched the qualifying in the snowboard slopestyle”; track skater Kathryn Thomson, who spent £22,000 funding her own season, crashed on the first corner of her 500m heat. Her fellow skater Farrell Treacy also suffered a shock early exit–though this time in circumstances tinged with “farce”. With two laps to go in his men’s 1,000m heat, he convinced himself that he’d “heard the bell for the final rotation”. He duly slowed down upon completing the next lap – only to realise, too late to salvage his chances, that he still had a lap to go. 

Yet for both winners and losers alike, an air of unreality hangs over these winter games, said Cindy Yu in The Spectator. And that’s because, aside from a selected few, there are no spectators. So strict is China’s zero-Covid policy, and so terrified is the Chinese leadership of getting the disease (the average age on the Politburo Standing Committee is 63), the organisers decided last month not to sell tickets to the general public. But keen to sell a message of peace and togetherness, they did manage to stage a lavish opening ceremony involving some 3,000 teenagers dressed as snowflakes, said Aja Romano on Vox. Before the ceremony they also encouraged athletes from the different nations to sign a “truce mural”. More toe-curling still, said Kaya Terry in the Daily Mail, they made a 20-year-old Uyghur, the skier Dinigeer Yilamujiang, one of the faces of the Games by getting her to light the Olympic flame; they even showed a film of her delighted family. Days later she came 43rd in her event and duly vanished.

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