The Olympics from hell: China’s Covid regime has seen weeping competitors hauled off to solitary confinement, while the backdrop’s a dystopian wasteland and the food’s so bad that athletes are wasting away
Eileen Gu is a wholesomely beautiful teenager who, when not performing death-defying feats on a snow-clad mountain, models for designer fashion brands such as Louis Vuitton and Estee Lauder.
The sight of this 18-year-old hurtling off a 196 ft ramp, turning four-and-half somersaults, then sinking to her knees before flag-waving Chinese spectators on learning she had won gold, was the iconic scene during the opening week of the Winter Olympics.
Watching it unfold before a global audience, President Xi Jinping and his Communist Party underlings must have felt like performing somersaults, too.
Eileen Ailing Gu of Team China performs a trick during the Women’s Freestyle Skiing Big Air Training session
As Gu was born and raised in California, but controversially ‘defected’ to represent China — her mother’s native country — they would have regarded her triumph as a major propaganda coup. Proof they were moving inexorably closer to gaining sporting as well as economic supremacy over the U.S.
Chinese state-run media outlets duly praised Gu’s patriotism as well as her skill.
The backdrop to her homecoming was no less symbolic. The ‘Big Air’ ski jump happens to be framed by two huge cooling towers which wreathed the skies over western Beijing in a suffocating fog — that is, before the coal-fired steelworks to which they belonged was decommissioned years ago.
As British viewers have noted, it seems a strangely dystopian setting. However, when China snatched these Games from neighbouring Kazakhstan — whose climate and topography made it a more suitable venue — one of its promises was to stage the cleanest and most ‘sustainable’ Games in history.
And since every detail of this great charade has been meticulously choreographed by party officials, we can safely assume the disused chimneys, painted with the five Olympic rings and framed by a clear blue sky, are there to show the world the promised green revolution is already well under way.
Zhu Yi of Team China reacts during the Women Single Skating Free Skating Team Event
Contrast the adulation surrounding Eileen Gu with the mercilessly orchestrated attack on Beverly Zhu, another Californian girl who chose to represent her parents’ birth country in the figure-skating
The truth, as with so many facets of these sham Olympics, is different. What we are not told is that the carbon-belching steelworks hasn’t really closed at all. It has been relocated to an industrial seaport, 135 miles southwest of Beijing, where it continues to pump out pollutants away from prying Western eyes.
Moreover, China still burns more than half the world’s consumption of coal and shows no discernible commitment to cleaning up its act.
Behind the forest of wind turbines and glistening banks of solar panels along the arterial routes to the Games venues, there is no disguising the innumerable factories belching their fug over the horizon.
As for American-Chinese athletes who choose the Five-Star Red Flag over the Star-Spangled Banner, well, they are most welcome … as long as they are successful. When it comes to losers, their Asian heritage clearly counts for nothing.
Contrast the adulation surrounding Eileen Gu with the mercilessly orchestrated attack on Beverly Zhu, another Californian girl who chose to represent her parents’ birth country in the figure-skating, changing her name to Zhu Yi and adopting Chinese citizenship to emphasise her new allegiance.
When she fell in her first performance last Sunday, some of her new compatriots were prepared to give her a second chance. When she fell twice more the following day, there was no way back.
A staff member sprays a member of the public after the Men’s Freestyle Skiing Big Air Final
Frida Karlsson of Sweden reacts in the finish area during the Women’s 7.5km+7.5km Skiathlon competition
Questioning why she had been picked ahead of native-born Chinese skaters, critics decried her ‘privileged’ background (her father is a computer scientist in Silicon Valley) and mocked her poor grasp of the Mandarin language.
On China’s main social media platform, Weibo, the hashtag #ZhuYiFellDown was viewed 230 million times. Ludicrously, some detractors suggested she might have been planted as a U.S. spy.
The character assassination became so vitriolic that even state censors felt obliged to curtail it.
So much, then, for another grandiose Communist Party mantra, rehearsed a few days ago by the news outlet ChinaDaily.com, that it would stage a Games that ‘rallies people together [and] overcomes historical, cultural and even ideological differences’, in keeping with the Olympic spirit.
Yet the disgraceful treatment of this distraught 19-year-old girl is just one of myriad episodes to have marred the opening week of an Olympics tarnished by a Western diplomatic boycott (supported by Britain) and the condemnation of 200 humanitarian organisations that judge China to be an unfit host.
Indeed, with nine days remaining, Beijing 2022 has already justified the Mail’s opening-day headline: that these are the most shameful Games since those staged by the Nazis in 1936. Some critics go as far as suggesting that, for all manner of reasons, they are the worst Olympics ever to have been staged.
Russian athletes are competing at the Beijing Games as the Russian Olympic Committee (pictured during the opening ceremony of Beijing 2022) without their flag and national anthem, because of sanctions for previous violations
At times, BBC viewers must wonder if they are watching an acrimonious meeting of the UN rather than sport, for barely an hour passes without the emergence of some fresh scandal or controversy.
And all this with snowballs of chaos and ineptitude thrown in.
For those not sufficiently privileged to ride the 225 mph Snow Dream train (largely reserved for Communist Party mandarins and Olympic officials) it can take five hours to reach some venues. Meanwhile, protests have been lodged about accommodation and food.
‘The catering is extremely questionable as it’s not really catering,’ grumbled German skiing coach Christian Schwaiger. ‘There are no hot meals. There are crisps, some nuts and chocolate, nothing else.’ He said this was an inadequate diet for high-performance athletes.
Despite the need for artificial snow, the Swedes have complained the weather at the cross-country course was dangerously cold.
Under International Ski Federation rules, competitions must be suspended when the temperature drops below minus 20c, but they claim it plunged to minus 35c with the wind-chill factor, leaving their skiathlon competitor Frida Karlsson shaking and close to collapse at the end of her race.
Ironically, however, in the nation in which the pandemic started (and which has since adopted a stance of righteous denial and clinical superiority) most complaints emanate from the brutally repressive rules the Games’ organisers are enforcing to stop the spread of Covid.
The Beijing Winter Olympics have been rocked by an anti-doping saga surrounding 15-year-old Russian skating sensation Kamila Valieva
This week, desperate competitors from nations including Poland, Russia, Belgium and the U.S. have taken to social media to describe the prison-like conditions in which they’re being quarantined.
Deprived of almost any outside contact or stimulation beyond Chinese state-TV channels and a faltering internet connection, unable to stomach the revolting meals thrust contemptuously at them by Hazmat-suited guards from the Epidemic Prevention Force, some have sounded almost suicidal.
Take this harrowing testimony from Polish ice-skater Natalia Maliszewska, who became trapped in a Kafka-esque nightmare after testing positive before her event, then being told she was clear to compete, only to be informed there had been a ‘mistake’ and marched back to her isolation room.
‘It’s hard for me to speak, to say I’m alive, even though I believe something died in me yesterday,’ she wrote on social media. ‘I’ve been living in fear for more than a week and these mood swings and my crying make not only the people around me worry, but myself too.
‘I know a lot of people do not understand this situation. Positive and negative tests … that suddenly qualify me to be in hospital on a ventilator. Later, good results and a chance for parole. Then total flop. No way. Hope has died. On the day of the race, at 3am, people pulled me out of solitary. That night was a horror. I slept fully clothed because I was afraid someone would take me back to solitary confinement. I only peeked through the curtains because I was afraid someone would see me.
‘Then, great hope. I’m packing for the rink! I unpack my clothes … and suddenly they were wrong! I’m a threat! I don’t believe anything any more. No tests, no games. This is a JOKE. I hope whoever controls it has a lot of fun doing it … my brain and heart can’t take any more.’
When she complained to the authorities, she says, ‘They told me there is so much politics you won’t understand. This is China.’ An equally bleak description came from Russian biathlon competitor Valeria Vasnetsova. Beneath a picture of an inedible-looking meal, she claimed to have lost so much weight in five days of quarantine that her ‘bones were protruding’. She said she was ‘pale with rings under her eyes’ and cried daily.
Melodramatic? Not according to a source closer to home, who gave the Mail a shocking first- hand account of his treatment at the hands of the Olympics Covid squad.
It began one evening with an insistent hammering on his door. As it had no peephole, nothing prepared him for the pit of despair into which he was to be cast.
Opening the door, he was confronted by two men wearing white overalls and helmets that rendered them faceless. Speaking into a device resembling an old Nokia phone, which translated their words on to a screen, they told him he’d tested positive and had to isolate.
For how long, he asked timorously. They could not say.
Before being locked in his room, however, he was made to undergo a deep-dive swab far more painful and intrusive than those in Britain. The prong was thrust so far down his throat it scraped his epiglottis (just above the larynx), then rammed up his nostrils to a depth of about 2 in, drawing blood.
The guards seemed to derive sadistic pleasure from this torture, which was repeated every 12 hours. When the source tried to inch open the door to get some air, he was warned back inside with a menacing shout.
US Olympic skier Mikaela Shiffrin completed her first race of the 2022 Winter Games, placing ninth in the Super-G after on Friday
After two days, he said, the boredom of watching incomprehensible TV and eating vile stodge gave way to fear.
From his window he could see ambulances, and knew that should he keep testing positive, two days after his diagnosis he faced being taken to a Spartan isolation ward where conditions are even worse.
To protect his identity, we must leave his story there. But in Zhangjiakou, one of three Olympic centres, we saw another Covid victim consigned to this fate.
After being firmly ‘helped’ to dress and pack his suitcase, he stumbled into the ambulance and was transported to a dimly lit room, stinking of sewage, beneath the main media office.
Since the testing equipment at the Games is more sensitive than ours, and release only comes after two negatives on successive days, he had no idea when he would return to the land of the clean.
An obvious explanation for these heavy-handed tactics is that they are intended to show China’s iron will and absolute authority in combating the virus, in contrast to the perceived weakness and indiscipline of Western efforts.
However, among many Games participants, there appears to be mounting suspicion they are being used to boost the home nation’s medals table position. As of yesterday, China had already won three golds and three silvers, approaching its total haul eight years ago in Sochi. But they are hungry for more.
Mikaela Shiffrin, of the United States sits on the side of the course after skiing out in the first run of the women’s slalom at the 2022 Winter Olympics
Certainly, there seemed a sense of anger and bewilderment in American figure-skater Vincent Zhou’s voice when he recorded an Instagram video from the isolation of his hotel room, after Covid forced him out of the men’s individual competition.
Having just endured two months of ‘crushing’ solitude to avoid Covid, he found it impossible to explain how he could have contracted the virus. Was he delivering a cryptic message to the Chinese when he said, staring defiantly into the camera, that he felt he’d been ‘set-up’ for a ‘bigger comeback?’
Meanwhile, a slew of other dubious decisions are leading some to ask whether the slope of fair-play is tilted in China’s favour — or, at least, against rival nations. South Korea complained to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and accused Games referees of ‘bias’, after two of its skaters were disqualified in the same semi-final race.
And, yet again, ignominy hangs over the Russians.
Already competing under a neutral flag as a punishment for past doping violations, yesterday, Games drug-testers revealed that a 15-year-old Russian prodigy, figure-skater Kamila Valieva, had tested positive for a banned heart medication when competing in December.
As the International Olympic Committee decide whether this should have made her ineligible to compete in Beijing, the gold medals she and her compatriots won in the team competition have yet to be awarded. Placed on ice, one might say. Valieva could also be barred from skating next Tuesday.
So how, you might wonder, are the 13 ‘corporate partners’ sponsoring the Winter Olympics to the tune of $1 billion — multinationals such as Airbnb, Visa, Samsung, Toyota, Panasonic, Procter & Gamble, and Coca-Cola — managing to slalom their way through all this?
By adopting two very different strategies: one for their markets in China and its allies, another for Western territories such as Britain, according to Professor Rick Burton, former chief marketing officer for the U.S. Olympic Committee.
‘What I’m hearing is that many of the sponsors are using Olympic-themed adverts in China, and I would imagine they are doing the same in places such as North Korea and Russia which are favourable to these Olympics, while in other parts of the world [critical of the Games] they may be using different imagery,’ he told the Mail.
‘So, in the UK, for example, Coke may invest in football rather than the Olympics. They are sophisticated enough to adapt.’
They certainly are. This week, Chinese state TV channels punctuated their Olympic coverage with Coca-Cola ads featuring a family of cartoon tigers, the animal symbolising this Chinese year, and the drinks company is supplying drinks and snacks at the venues.
Toyota also has a highly visible presence in Beijing. But as with other backers, in Britain its links with the Games are conspicuous by their absence.
Are these dichotomous tactics ethical? ‘Well, it’s their right,’ says Professor Burton. ‘I think I could find you people who would say it’s smart. And I could find you people who’d say they are trying not to get drawn into a discussion that they don’t want to have.’
Quite so. Their expedient attitude somehow befits the cynical charade being played out in the snowless northern reaches of China.A country where filthy factories can be rendered invisible, rival athletes live in fear of the Covid police, and anyone can become a valued comrade — so long as a gold medal is dangling around their neck.