How ugly was the meltdown in women’s figure skating that happened here on Thursday? Even the president of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, hastened to condemn it. “Yesterday I was very, very upset watching the competition on TV,” Bach said of the women’s freestyle singles. The defining event of the Winter Games was a crash landing that became a toll for the sport. Fifteen-year-old Russian phenom Kamila Valieva, competing under the cloud of doping allegations, fell on the ice and received a lick from her coach. Her teammate who won silver, Alexandra Trusova, said: “I hate sports!” Her teammate who won the gold, Anna Shcherbakova, said she should sit in a quiet room to work things out.
If this is a clean-up operation, writes Jason Gay, Bach will need one of the hazmat suits Beijing 2022 workers wear to administer Covid tests. Getting through the second pandemic Olympics in six months was always going to be tough. The Olympics rely on sports and pageantry to distract fans around the world from these issues, but the magic never happened in this era. An event of low public interest, starred by a doping scandal involving a teenager, against the backdrop of divisive politics and stifling Covid protocols, made Beijing a Games that will probably be remembered for all the wrong reasons.
The Games, of course, produced winners. The host country won 14 medals, including 8 gold, two records for China at the Winter Games. Three of those medals were won by Californian freestyle skier Eileen Gu, who won again on Friday. Norway is at the top of the medal table because, you know, it’s Norway.
The United States, meanwhile, has won 21 medals, including eight gold, so far. But only one came from the sport of alpine skiing, once a stronghold of Team USA. At the heart of the matter is the fact that it’s become a one-percent sport – funding for a junior ski racing career can exceed $500,000.
That’s the end of the line for the daily Olympics newsletter; it’s back to weekly editions a week from today. Covering back-to-back Olympics under these circumstances was a challenge, and I had the pleasure of serving not only as WSJ Sports Editor, but also our Covid-19 liaison for both Games. (I have a tip if ever someone offers you the title of CLO: Course!)
For me, perhaps the story that best illustrates these Games is that of Nordic combined athlete Jarl Magnus Riiber from Norway. He arrived in Beijing; was forced into Covid quarantine after testing positive; recovered to compete in his signature race – and lost a certain gold medal because he took a wrong turn on a cross-country course he had never been able to train on. As a metaphor for those Olympics, it was pretty on the nose.
But you have to respect the fact that the athletes went to these Olympic Games. This figure skater‘s way to Beijing was via a cruise ship! Here’s hoping the roads to Paris 2024 and Milano Cortino 2026 are a little easier and the Olympics feel like the Olympics again.