Closing ceremony over the Birdsnest stadium. (

By Geoffrey Churchman and Roger Childs

This year for the first time a city, Beijing, achieved the status of having hosted both the Summer and Winter Olympics. Although the sporting events are what most people are interested in, the opening and closing ceremonies are always highlights of any Olympics, and this year the Chinese didn’t disappoint with very innovative and colourful displays for both which must have involved considerable planning and execution. 

The occasion happened to coincide with the Chinese lunar New Year which must have enabled most of the country’s population to watch the events on television, just as those of us lucky to be retired in New Zealand were able to do.  Although the number of athletes at 2,900 is only about a fifth of those who compete at the Summer Olympics, it didn’t stop the Chinese putting on the best show for the world that they could.

The host nation also impressed with the construction and organisation of the venues, and all events ran faultlessly, except for the starting pistol in some of the speed skating.  The most appealing venue of them all has to have been the mountains for the downhill skiing which gave viewers impressive vistas (see the diagram.) 

Obviously this is a summer picture, but artificial snow was used to supplement the natural snow.

Political undercurrents, covid and drugs

The American government may have boycotted the games, but the U.S. athletes were there in droves to bring home a record haul of medals for the country. Journalists did raise issues concerning the treatment of the Uyghurs, concentration camps, human rights issues in Hong Kong and the Taiwan questions during at least one press conference, but were unsurprisingly fobbed off. There was understandably a degree of cynicism over the Games slogan: Together for a shared future.

The Chinese government wanted the games to be showpiece for the regime and no-one questioned the quality of the venues and the efficiency of the organisation. Some athletes did get irritated at the constant coronavirus testing, but were basically happy with the facilities. Covid in the country where it originated over two years ago is still clearly seen as a problem and there were plenty of masks visible; and sadly, only small crowds were allowed at the venues, albeit bigger than those allowed in Tokyo last year.

There was one drugs scandal which was quite bizarre: 15-year-old Russian Ice dancer Kamila Valiera tested positive to a banned drug. Officials wanted her out of the competition, but inexplicably the Court of Arbitration for Sport said there were exceptional circumstances and claimed that banning her while the case proceeded would cause her irreparable harm!

Memorable times for Kiwis

Zoi Sadowski-Synnott

For New Zealanders these Games will be remembered for the success of Zoi Sadowski-Synnott and Nico Porteous. After winning bronze medals at the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, they moved to  the top of the podium in Beijing. To her gold, Zoi added a silver for good measure to make them New Zealand’s most successful Winter Olympics ever.

With the Paralympics coming up in March, Kiwis Adam Hall in the downhill skiing and Corey Peters in the sit skiing are prospects for adding to New Zealand’s medal haul.

Speed, skill and spectacle

Everyone will have their preferred sporting codes, but it’s safe to assume that nearly everybody enjoys figure skating and ice dancing where artistry is as important as skill.  Downhill slalom skiing and jumps are also sure to be liked by most people. Also popular are the speed skating where the athletes travel at over 50 km/h and the luge and Bob Sleigh events where they move down the icy trough at an incredible 130 km/h+ and 150 km/h+ respectively.

There are also highly gruelling events like the cross-country skiing, up to 30 km, and the Biathlon where competitors have to stop four times on the skiing course and try and hit five targets with the rifle they carry on their backs.

The skill of the best athletes is quite amazing, especially in the downhill skiing and the event where competitors are in the air turning somersaults and performing other tricks. However, the risks are high and the less gifted often fall or crash. 

The Winter Olympics are a great spectacle across all the sports and at Beijing the world’s best, including two New Zealanders, didn’t disappoint.