The Beijing Winter Olympics arrived much like the Tokyo Summer Games: shrouded in uncertainty. Thanks to the rapid spread of the coronavirus and its new omicron variant, the need to contain the spread remained a priority, leading officials to make the international sporting event one that would be streamed to audiences around the world, yet closed-off to those outside of the immediate athlete circle. Just two days into the event however, and it appears the athletes aren’t exactly sold by the whole extravaganza. Rather, the Beijing Winter Olympics are being hit by a number of complaints from athletes.
As The Guardian reports, “The Swedes have suggested that the conditions in the mountains are perilously cold. A Polish skater says she was living in fear in a Beijing isolation ward and has “cried until I have no more tears”. The Finns have claimed an ice hockey player is being kept in Covid quarantine for no reason. And the Germans? They are frustrated that there is no hot food at the downhill skiing.”
Due to the nature of the Games existing during the time of a global pandemic, athletes are currently operating in a closed loop system which means they are unable to leave the village except to train, compete or go home. It also means they are distanced from friends and family who remain outside of the zone. But while most anticipated the challenges associated with navigating the Olympics at such a time, other issues have come as something of a surprise. When it comes to temperature, few could have anticipated just how much the temperature would plummet and athletes are now urging for cross-country skiing events to be held earlier in the day after Frida Karlsson was seen shaking and close to collapse at the end of the women’s 7.5km+7.5km skiathlon.
Rules of the International Ski Federation (FIS) stipulate that competitions are to be stopped if temperatures dip below -20C, and while the temperatures in the mountains of Zhangjiakou were only -13C, the windchill meant it was far colder. As Swedish team boss Anders Bystroem told reporters, “We have the cold limits but I do not know if they also measure the wind effect. If FIS says it’s -17 degrees and it’s windy, and it’s -35 degrees with the wind chill, what do you do then?”
The Swede called for the women’s sprint race to be moved earlier in the day to avoid colder temperatures, saying: “The skiathlon started at 4pm and Frida Karlsson was completely destroyed by the cold. It’s not good that the sprint starts even later.”
Meanwhile, other athletes have expressed fears over testing positive for Covid and being kept in isolation. Since 23 January, more than 350 Games participants – including athletes – have tested positive upon arrival in the Chinese capital, with some fearing their participation in the Games will be over due to the need to isolate. For Polish speed skater Natalia Maliszewska this became a terrifying reality after she was kept in a Beijing isolation ward after testing positive.
“Since a week I have been living in fear and these changes in mood,” she said. “I cry until I have no more tears and make not only the people around me worry but myself too.”
To be released from an isolation ward, you must return two negative tests 24 hours apart and be free of symptoms. Maliszewska was released back to the Olympic village only to later be told there had been a mistake. “People got me out of my room at 3am,” she described. “This night was a horror, I slept in my clothes in my bed because I was afraid that at any moment someone would take me back to isolation. Then a message that unfortunately they were mistaken, that I am a threat, and should not have been released from isolation.”
Maliszewska added, “I have to get back to the Olympic village as soon as possible. I can’t understand this anymore. I no longer believe in any tests, any Olympics. To me this is a big joke, I hope whoever is managing this has a lot of fun. My heart and my mind can’t take this anymore.”