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2022 Winter Olympics: Taiwan and a Uyghur athlete at the opening ceremony

Even the muted opening ceremony of Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics was still a spectacle.

The Olympic cauldron and fireworks seen at the Beijing 2022 opening ceremony.
This story was published on our Need to Know: Beijing Olympics newsletter, An informative, entertaining email about a controversial Winter Games.
  • Susan Howson
By Susan Howson

News Editor


Hi Olympic fans!

And we’re off, with a fully packed schedule of events to watch this weekend, including luge, hockey, skating, skiing, snowboarding, and lots and lots of curling.

Here’s what you need to know

  • As the Games officially began with a lavish opening ceremony that hammered home a message of peace, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping digested the lunch they shared in Beijing, as well as their discussions about global security.
  • Ukraine was high on the agenda for Xi and Putin, but on the ground, Russian and Ukrainian athletes are avoiding each other in the Olympic Village.
  • There’s a dystopian vibe in the athletes’ quarters, with bartenders dispensing apres-ski drinks in hazmat suits.
  • Indian diplomats skipped the opening ceremony to protest China’s decision to select a torch-bearer who was a soldier involved in fatal border skirmishes in 2020.
  • As for the events themselves, no medals have been won yet, but there has been some  excitement in mixed-doubles curling.

Open for Olympic business

The Olympic cauldron and fireworks seen at the Beijing 2022 opening ceremony.
Image copyright: Reuters/Pawel Kopczynski
The Beijing 2022 opening ceremony went off with a bang.

The opening ceremony may have sent up only a fraction of the fireworks as the same event, but it generated just as much buzz. Not so much for the enormous LED snowflake, but for two key political choices.

Pressured by the International Olympic Committee, Taiwan marched in the Parade of Nations under the name Chinese Taipei and bearing a neutral flag, and an athlete China says has Uyghur heritage was one of the two individuals who lit the Olympic cauldron. Let the Games—political and athletic—begin.

5,800: Proposals considered for Beijing 2022’s mascot

At least 6: Opening ceremonies that featured John Lennon’s “Imagine,” which of course, contains the line “Imagine there’s no countries”

90: Countries participating in this Olympics

91,000: Spectators at the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics opening ceremony

0: Tickets sold this year

3,000: Cast and crew of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics opening ceremony

125,000 feet: Size of the National Stadium’s LED screen

Our latest Weekly Obsession went down a rabbit hole on opening ceremonies. We’ll be sending another before the Olympics are over about everyone’s favorite ice-smoothing machines. Hit the button below to sign up!

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Beijing’s snow job

A snow gun on a slope in China spraying fake snow
Image copyright: Reuters/Thomas Peter
A TechnoAlpin snow gun sprays snow onto a slope for recreational use at the Genting ski resort in Zhangjiakou near venues of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, Hebei province, China, November 20, 2021. Picture taken November 20, 2021.

The 1980 Games at Lake Placid, New York, marked the first use of snow machines at the Winter Olympics. Four decades later, the white stuff at the Beijing Olympics will be entirely artificial, up from 80% at Sochi and around 90% in the 2018 event in South Korea.

What the fake snow lacks in pretty snowflakes—these form from naturally-occurring atmospheric water vapor, while the water sprayed from snow cannons freezes into tiny balls—it makes up for in reliability.

China’s bid for the Olympics always hinged on an army of snow machines, because of the Beijing region’s scant snowfall. But hosting the Winter Games in a normally snowless landscape may become the norm because of climate change. Manufacturing snow is of course energy and water intensive—like air-conditioning and other efforts at adapting to a changing climate, the snow machines will be worsening the very issue they are helping us ignore.

Clear ice, full hearts, can’t lose

Advertisement with an image of Eileen Gu at a bus stop in Beijing
Image copyright: Reuters/Tingshu Wang

At the last Winter Olympics, North Korea’s figure skating pair stole the show. These are a few of the athletes who will capture attention in Beijing.

⛷Eileen Gu. A California teenager who is freestyle skiing for China, where she’s known as the  “frog princess.” She also models (that’s her in the bus stop ad above) and is headed to Stanford—but can she navigate a geopolitical minefield?

Shaolin Sándor Liu. The 26-year-old short track speed skater and his younger brother, who have a Hungarian mother and Chinese father, will compete together in the men’s 5000-meter relay for the European country. Liu has said any medal he wins will be, in his heart, 50% for China and 50% for Hungary.

Nathan Chen. The 22-year-old US skater is a gold-medal favorite in the men’s single’s skating event, hoping for a comeback from his stumble at the 2018 games.

⛷Mialitiana Clerc. The alpine skier for Madagascar, who was raised in France, is the lone African woman competing at Beijing. Clerc mader her Olympic debut at age 16 four years ago in Pyeongchang, the most African Winter Olympics yet.

⛸Yuzuru Hanyu. The double gold medalist Japanese figure skater is keeping his fans guessing, as he hasn’t been seen in Beijing yet. When he does perform he could make history—Hanyu has pledged to pull off a quadruple axel in his Olympics program.

❄️We hope some day you will join us, and the world will live as one—and by “some day” we mean we’ll be back in your inbox in 48 hours. Want to get a fellow Olympic fan in on the action? Here’s where they need to go.

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