There have been many great and memorable moments from Beijing 2022. John Shuster, a curler, carrying in the US flag at the Opening Ceremony. Erin Jackson’s history-making skate. Keegan Messing waving the Canadian flag everywhere he went. Shaun White’s final ride. Iivo Niskanen waiting for every skier to cross the finish line after winning the 15km Classic. Nathan Chen’s coronation as quad king when he won gold in men’s figuring skating. The bagpipers at the Ice Cube. Germany sweeping the podium of the two-man bobsleigh. Matt Hamilton’s hair. The home couple winning gold in pairs figure skating with a beautiful and redemptive routine. Any moment involving Bing Dwen Dwen.
The images I will remember most, however, are the ones surrounding the controversial women’s figure skating event:
- Kamila Valiyeva, the child…yes, child…at the center of the doping controversy will be remembered for all the wrong reasons. Watching her fall to pieces in an event she never should have been permitted to compete in was bad enough, but watching her crumble further following her disastrous routine, and receive no support or concern from the people who should have been protecting her will be indelibly etched into the minds of all who were watching. While I truly believe she should have been barred from competition, she is not the villain in this story…that distinction goes to every adult involved in her training, who should all be subsequently banned from the sport for life.
- Aleksandra Trusova will most likely be remembered for throwing a fit upon learning that her teammate won gold, which left her to settle for silver, instead of for her repertoire of quad jumps. This unsportmanslike temper tantrum was unlike almost anything I’ve seen at the Olympics, and while it was appalling, I still felt badly for her, because she was competing under extreme pressure in very unusual circumstances, with little support, and with the same terrible coaches Valiyeva depended upon.
- Anna Shcherbakova should be remembered simply as the gold medalist of one of the favorite events of Beijing 2022. But she had no one to celebrate her victory with her…no teammates screaming with her, no coaches cheering her on, no one hugging her and sharing her excitement. It should have been the highlight of her young life, instead, in her own words, she felt “empty inside” as she sat alone and downcast following the competition.
- Kaori Sakamoto, the one bright spot in the competition, will possibly remembered more for being completely overcome with emotion at the realization that she made it to the podium, which she was not expecting, instead of for winning bronze in a highly contested event. Her tears of joy may have looked similar to the emotions expressed by the athletes representing the Russian Olympic Committee, but it was a relief knowing at least one of the medalists was thrilled with the outcome of her performance.
I had reservations about Beijing 2022 before the Winter Games began, not just because of COVID-19, but also because of issues surrounding the host country. I’m left with even more reservations about how international sports are handled, especially when minors are involved. I hope that the powers that be will take a long, hard look at how the athletes are being treated, and come up with more stringent regulations about training and new, higher minimum age requirements, in an effort to stop using these young people as commodities that can simply be discarded after a single season of competition.