The Winter Olympic Games 2022 are finished. I have to say, I am relieved. It may have been the two worst weeks for sports history since 86 years, likely. You would typically see the Flyctory.com alternative medal count in here. Just as I did it for the 2018 Winter Games or Tokyo’s one year delayed Olympic moment in 2021. However, I just did not feel like it. The result would be preliminary anyway, due to the the certified uncertainty of the Figure Skating Team Event – and, likely, some more shifts in the medals to come. I tried to ignore the Games as much as I could. I mainly watched luge, as I love following German Julia Taubitz, and the Olympic Ice Hockey Tournament. That’s mainly it.
Nonetheless, I kept in touch with the Games, read reports, watched some sum-up here and there, so that I always knew what is going on. Far more than enough to have some thoughts about Beijing 2022. And that’s what this sports blogging post is about. Some thoughts about these Olympic Winter Games:
Propaganda and Genocide
The effort to run Olympic Winter Games is massive – especially as there are some facilities you likely won’t need any more right after the two weeks event (e.g. the facilities for speed skating and the bobsleigh / luge / skeleton stuff). Thus, you buy in that you work with people who see more than an economic and infrastructure investment when they bid for the Games. The way the Chinese hosts have presented Uighur athlete Dinigeer Yilamujiang in the Opening Ceremony is disgusting. Thomas Bach lost a lot of reputation the last weeks – but whoever will follow him one day, it is hard to believe things get better.
At least, the next Olympic Games, summer and winter, feel to become better in that relation, but might have other issues. While China could present themselves and do propaganda, it will be interesting to see whether the Olympic Games can recover from Beijing 2022. The more people decide not to watch the Games, the more the IOC gets under pressure due to lower TV and sponsorship revenue. But… these were “just” Winter Games. We will see at Paris 2024 if Beijing left a negative mark in the French books.
Doping is nothing exclusive to the Beijing Games, for sure. However, that an athlete is starting with reservations and one competition is still not yet finalized (Figure Skating Team Event) feels unique. The Valieva case has been a shame for the IOC, the WADA and the Russian Anti-Doping Programs (if there are some). People tend to think that the young Russian figure skater is a victim of her coaches. But you should bear in mind that the actual gold and silver medalist in women figure skating, Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova, come from the same training group, have the same coaches. Can we really believe they are clean? If they were, what would that mean in regards of Valieva?
It was likely right to allow her to compete from a formal and legal point of view (and also as the Russians love her and Putin and Bach are that good buddies…). Sports needs to define what kind of sports they want – and be strict in it. Having a country starting under an IOC flag because you believe there is state-organized, systematic doping is not a punishment. It’s ridiculous.
Control The Coaches
Kamila Valieva was the likely been the face of the Olympic Games – a tragedy instead of a masterous performance. At least she may raise some questions. For example, why are there Youth Olympic Games if you compete with the adults at the age of 15? My question rather has been: when is sports controlling the coaches better? It was likely already an absolutely disgraceful decision to sent this kid out to the ice rink for the Free Skating event. Treating her in that way as Russian coach Eteri Tutberidze has not only been a shame for Russian ice skating and the Russian sports – it has been a failure for all sports. Accusations and verbal abuse in this moment of failure would be wrong if Valieva was an adult, but they absolutely unacceptable at this 15-year old girl.
Don’t just blame the Russians here. The coaching failure of Tokyo 2020 was Kim Raisner, coach of the German Modern Pentathlon team and especially of Annika Schleu. We all remember how she failed to handle Saint Boy. I do understand that this is a terrible situation for an athlete, having an almost certain gold medal and then being almost kicked out of the competition by an unfaithful horse assignment. But: these things happened in a couple of Summer Olympics before. I am sure they happen regularly at minor Modern Pentathlon. The ugly the situation is, you need to be prepared for that. To me, the team around Annika Schleu did a terrible job in preparing her for the competition. At least for all major competing countries and all athletes, which may have a chance to go for the medal, coaches need to be better educated and controlled.
Germany and the Bobsleigh Track
The bobsleigh track, ice channel or however you call it is likely the most controversially discussed kind of venue you need for Winter Games. Such an investment, and absolutely useless for the time after the medals have been given. Now, Germany is even able to get medals in skeleton, after they have been dominant in luge and very competitive in the bob so far. If you limited German medals to the ones received at the Yanqing National Sliding Center, they would still be second in the medal tally (which also means: the remaining set of medals is rather poor). Nonetheless, I would like to get rid of that.
It also feels to be a sports dominated by the technical potential of the home countries. I was wondering especially when German luge Julia Taubitz tilted after her second run. If she would have made a really good third run (instead of failing and being half a second slower than run 1 and 4), she might have still been in touch with the bronze medal ranking. Hard to believe that Germans do train so much better only. “Just” gold and silver and for the sledding ladies has almost been disappointing…
Sports Journalism – Not Privileged Fandom at the Microphone
Yeah, even if you look into Wikipedia or the Britannica, journalism does not have to be neutral. It is always produced by a person, which does not allow being objective already. But the few snippets I saw in German TV of Beijing 2022 were unbearable to me. You majorly have two TV options broadcasting the Games here, Eurosport and the national broadcasters, ARD and ZDF.
Okay, Eurosport is a private channel. They paid a load of money to show the stuff, they need to keep the viewers happy. The more viewers, the more ad revenue – and the more likely, the investment repays. Maybe you cannot expect from them that they criticize the Beijing 2022 and what is going on there. People are already skeptical anyways. But ARD and ZDF are funded by publicly, their system is made to be independent. Yeah, they have done great in discovering state-driven doping in the past, but to me they failed that much this time. Some examples:
- Praising Julia Taubitz’ third run in luge as a great performance (which was half a second slower than her two “good” performances and the German national coach was obviously not amused about that…)
- During the Women’s Free Skating, the TV host stated that you need a strong faith in your sports and doping would not make any sense at all. I rather see mental child abuse there (see above) and don’t they jump there? Don’t they have to fight and train hard?
Der ARD-Reporter stellt im Stream öffentlich "die Sinnhaftigkeit von Doping im Eiskunstlauf in Frage". Keine Ahnung, was der Mensch beruflich macht.
Er orakelt über "Meinungsvielfalt" und ist so ahnungslos in Dopingfragen und den Regeln, dass es wehtut. pic.twitter.com/tmZOccF8dm
— SPORT & POLITICS (@JensWeinreich) February 15, 2022
Sports journalists are too often too close to the sports and current athletes. Not to few of them have been former athletes. This may lead to higher experience and expertise, but also to closer contact to the structures. It gets even worse when middle-aged men (in both broadcasting groups, national TV and Eurosport) name teenage, non-adult female figure skaters “cute” or “sweet”. This has been a point where I felt sports journalism becomes nasty, shady.
Sports is about supporting your favorites, it is about emotions. You create emotions also by telling stories about the protagonists – but you also need to have a certain distance to what is happening. Sports journalism needs to define these limits again and keeps them. Things which might have been accepted (but not acceptable) twenty years ago are disgusting nowadays. And by not having a certain neutrality to what is happening in sports coverage, people might also not believe in you any more when it comes to economic or political topics.
… but praise the good ones
The much I felt disappointed by the TV coverage of the Olympics (the few stuff I saw…), the more I enjoyed real, neutral and investigate journalism about the Games. I thus have to praise one German journalist: After the death of his colleague and friend, British Andrew Jennings, Jens Weinreich is likely the world leading journalist in regards of the IOC, its structures and its collaboration with rogue states. During the Beijing Games, his Twitter account and publications have been my key source to have an alternative view. Even though he decided not to travel to the Games for the first time since ages. Some of the stuff is also in English:
The Andrew Jennings edition.
Read. Share it. Learn. Laugh. Cry.
A piece of sports history, a piece of journalism history: Andrew Jennings was the most important Olympic investigative journalist of all time.
53 authors from 17 countries honour him.https://t.co/Zt9EzA1zb0 pic.twitter.com/F8eKKCsmwG
— SPORT & POLITICS (@JensWeinreich) January 26, 2022
Keep Sports Simple
Discussions about ski wax in cross-country skiing, the suit dilemma at ski jumping, obvious differences in the bob and luge material leading to advantages. And also jury decisions like in ski cross, obvious weird interpretations of regulations about changing your citizenship. It feels to me like sports becomes more and more complicated. Somehow, it is even a good thing – because it means that many athletes are competitive and only small things make a difference. Nonetheless, we want the person to cross the finish line first to grab the golden medal – and, if there has not been an obvious foul or doping, keep it. A video judge or controversy about the fit of a suit does make a sports more thrilling or interesting, just more bothering.
There is quite some controversy about this athlete in German – but first of all, you need to praise Claudia Pechstein for competing in her eighth Olympic Games, briefly before turning 50 years old. Her time in the 3000m speed skating competition (4:17.16m) was even about a second faster than her 1994 Lillehammer Bronze Medal time the same distance. Unfortunately, there have been some (technical?) changes to the sports – and even her all-time best of 4:03.69 would have “just” meant an eleventh place in the Beijing oval.
Being closer to pension age than to the most athletic and performant time of your like raises questions. Especially about the other speed skaters in Germany that cannot compete with her. She is raising questions by her history, by some political statements she gave during the Beijing Olympics.
Ice Hockey – Germany… Finland and Slovakia
Finally, good old hockey has been the only sports I had a bit of a deeper look into. Let’s skip the German performance. It hurt not to have our ladies in the tournament – and it even hurt more to have our boys there. Finally, a weird tournament ended up with two great medals, Finland with their first ice hockey golden medal and Slovakia’s Bronze.
Olympic Games Should Be About The Athletes
The second last point of my posting is the one is a key one to me. Athletes should be in focus. If they did fair and clean sports, they should be the heroes for two weeks. They should be in focus. I did not have the feeling that Beijing created too many heroes. Maybe Eileen Gu, the Chinese with US-American background, who is having so many rights other Chinese people don’t have (like using Instagram). Before the Games, there were discussions whether athletes should boycott the Games, if they should give political statements. Now we discuss about doping children, too wide ski jumping suits, rude training methods and a lot of political propaganda. Not the best time to be an athlete at Olympic Games.
Italy 2026 – The Very Different Games
Milan and Cortina in four years will be very different Winter Games. They don’t construct too many new venues in Italy. Which also means that there will be some “clusters”. Milan itself will majorly only host the opening ceremony and ice hockey. Most other events are widespread over the Italian Alps. It may even be that Italy does not host bobsleigh, luge and skeleton at all as they don’t want to invest too much into a track they won’t need thereafter. The closing ceremony will be in Verona’s Historic Arena, which might be impressive fun. Unfortunately, some other issues might not change.
Videos by contributors on YouTube, title picture: Beijing 2022 logo by local organizer and the IOC
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