The 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing, China, concluded on Sunday. The most appropriate term to describe this international sporting event?
A mixed bag.
The Games were held in a communist country with a long history of authoritarian rule.
Most western democracies suggested their athletes take very few personal items to Beijing – or none at all. The FBI recommended that American participants only use burner (or disposable) phones and leave their regular phones at home.
Concerns about COVID-19 and the Omicron variant led to general ticket sales being cancelled and limited the audience to a small number of invitation-only attendees.
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Several countries joined a U.S.-led diplomatic boycott, including Canada, Australia, Britain, Denmark, Japan and the Netherlands, to protest China’s disgraceful human rights record.
Should there have been an international athletic boycott?
Yes, but most western democracies opted against it so their athletes wouldn’t be punished.
The various Olympic events were also a mixed bag.
Norway finished first overall with 37 medals, including 16 golds, which broke the previous single Winter Olympics record of 14 held by Canada (2010), Germany (2018) and the Norwegians (2018).
It’s a great accomplishment. But when you consider the number of events that have been added over the years, the chances of setting gold medal and total medal records are much higher. As The Interim’s editor Paul Tuns amusingly tweeted on Feb. 18, “Bound to happen with the proliferation of silly sports in the Olympics.”
Other countries had notable highlights:
- Germany finished second overall and dominated bobsledding.
- Sweden won its first gold in men’s curling.
- New Zealand won its first-ever gold medal at a Winter Olympics and ended with a second gold to boot.
- Finland won its first gold medal in men’s hockey, while Slovakia earned its first-ever medal in the sport by winning bronze.
- China’s Sui Wenjing and Han Cong earned gold in pairs figure skating.
- American Erin Jackson became the first Black woman to medal in speedskating when she won gold in the women’s 500-metre event.
There were also some controversies:
- Three athletes – Iran’s Hossein Saveh Shemshaki, and Ukraine’s Valiantsina Kaminskaya and Lidiia Hunko – were suspended after failing doping tests.
- U.S. skater Joey Mantia alleged South Korea’s Lee Seung-hoon made contact and pulled him back during their race, which caused him to lose the bronze medal by 0.002 seconds, but the Americans lost the challenge.
- Most notably, Russian Olympic Committee figure skater Kamila Valieva tested positive for the banned substance trimetazidine. The 15-year-old helped her team win gold in the team event but the medal ceremony was postponed pending an investigation (which is ongoing). She was allowed to compete in the singles event but ultimately finished fourth after falling several times in the free skate.
How did Canada fare at the Winter Olympics?
Once again, it was a mixed bag.
Our country won 26 medals in Beijing. That put us fourth behind Norway (37), ROC (32) and Germany (27). If Valieva is found guilty, the ROC would lose its gold medal in the team event and Canada would move up one spot to bronze and tie Germany.
The International Olympic Committee, however, doesn’t rank countries by total number of medals at a single Olympics. It’s the number of gold medals that establishes a country’s position on the medal table. That’s quite logical and prevents nations from finishing first with no gold medals, little to no silver medals, and winning upwards of 35 to 40 bronze medals.
Canada earned four gold, eight silver and 14 bronze medals in China. That put us in 11th place, our worst showing since the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. The four gold medals in one Winter Olympics is the lowest we’ve received since the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.
While some people will employ the proverbial phrase of the glass-half-empty versus half-full, you have to be honest in your analysis. It was a good medal haul by Team Canada, but it was far from a stellar performance.
Remember the popular concept of “Own the Podium” from the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver? That was our country’s quest to win medals (especially gold) and become one of the world’s powerhouses at the Winter Olympics. We achieved that lofty goal and have continued to move forward by finishing third in Sochi, Russia, in 2014 (10 golds, 25 medals) and third in PyeongChang, South Korea (11 golds, 29 medals).
Like it or not, Beijing was a setback. When Canadian commentators suggested in a half-joking manner that bronze was the new gold, it was a clear sign that we’ve lost the narrative. Own the Podium doesn’t seem to be a main priority but rather an after-thought.
Canada needs to regroup and aim much higher at the 2026 Winter Olympics in Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy. If not, another mixed bag could be in the Great White North’s future.
Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist and Washington Times contributor, was a speechwriter for former prime minister Stephen Harper. He holds a master’s degree in comparative politics from the London School of Economics. For interview requests, click here.
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