The Winter Olympics has kicked off after a dazzling opener Friday evening at Beijing’s Bird’s Nest stadium, the showpiece of its 2008 Summer Games. The winter sports extravaganza is set to run until Feb. 20, with some forecasters tipping the host country to clutch a record 13 medals. Snow sports powerhouse Norway is the favorite to top the medals tally for a second consecutive Winter Games.
China’s capital makes history as the first city to host both the summer and winter editions of the Olympics. But the event has been dogged by controversy. The U.S. and a handful of allies launched a diplomatic boycott over China’s rights record, while the highly transmissible omicron coronavirus variant tests Beijing’s bid to put on a safe event.
The drumbeat of war also threatens to overshadow the two-week sports showcase as China throws its diplomatic weight behind Moscow just as Washington warns that Russia is readying to invade Ukraine, setting up a clash of the superpowers.
Entries include files from wire services and Nikkei Asia reporters.
Here are the latest developments:
Saturday, Feb. 5 (Tokyo time)
12:33 p.m. Strong winds force the cancellation of the third training session for the men’s downhill skiing race after just a few athletes complete the course. Double Olympic gold medalist Mikaela Shiffrin warns the swirling gusts threaten skier safety and says she hopes no one will get blown off the mountain.
12:22 p.m. Taiwan blasts as “contemptible” the timing of China and Russia’s partnership announced at the start of the Winter Olympics, saying Beijing was bringing shame to the spirit of the Games. Hours earlier, the two nations backed each other over standoffs on Ukraine and Taiwan with a promise to collaborate more against the West.
12:09 p.m. Beijing 2022 organizers say 45 new cases of COVID-19 were detected among athletes and Olympic Games personnel on Feb. 4, more than double the 21 cases reported a day earlier. Some of the new infections were spotted among people living inside a “closed-loop” bubble that restricts their contact with the public.
Friday, Feb. 4 (Tokyo time)
11:20 p.m. And that’s it. The torch is placed in the center of the snowflake we saw earlier, and hoisted aloft.
11:15 p.m. The torch is in the stadium. We’re nearing the big moment.
10:52 p.m. Chinese President Xi Jinping declares the Games open. A large display of fireworks ignites.
10:45 p.m. We’re now in the speeches phase of the ceremony. International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach wishes “all our Chinese friends” a happy Lunar New Year. He notes that the year of the tiger is also an Olympic year and says that “both years stand for ambition, courage and strength.”
He credits China’s ambition for turning itself into a winter sports nation and thanks the Chinese authorities and people for making the Games happen despite the circumstances of the pandemic.
He says the athletes can show it is possible for fierce rivals to compete and live together peacefully, “never erecting walls.”
10:30 p.m. The parade of athletes concludes with China’s team entering the stadium, decked out in deep red uniforms. This kicks off a performance with countries’ names in snowflakes.
The Olympics website explains:
“Each delegation marched in behind a placard bearer holding up a snowflake-shaped board carrying the names of each team. Now, those 91 snowflakes come together to form one single, larger snowflake, framed by olive branches to symbolize peace and harmony.”
9:20 p.m. The parade of athletes is underway. Nearly 3,000 are set to compete in 15 disciplines across seven winter sports, chasing 109 sets of medals.
9:10 p.m. Xi Jinping welcomes the limited invitees with a wave. He’s sitting next to, but at a safe distance from, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach.
9:02 p.m. The 2022 Winter Olympics opening ceremony gets underway at Beijing’s Bird’s Nest stadium.
7:51 p.m. Russia and China call on The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to halt its expansion and for the U.S. and its allies to “abandon the ideological approaches of the Cold War era.” Moscow says it supports Beijing’s stance on Taiwan and opposes the island’s independence.
3:17 p.m. Russian President Vladimir Putin has arrived in Beijing for talks with Chinese leader Xi Jinping and to attend the Winter Olympics opening ceremony, state media report. His visit comes in the middle of soaring geopolitical tensions as Washington and its allies warn that Moscow is readying troops to invade Ukraine, a claim Russia denies.
12:47 p.m. Hong Kong national security officers detain five activists Friday morning over a planned protest to highlight human rights violations in China ahead of the opening ceremony. One of them, Koo Sze-yiu, was arrested on suspicion of violating the national security law, imposed on the city by Beijing in 2020, by allegedly inciting subversion.
12:00 p.m. The Olympic torch relay begins its final stretch as it moves past bridges, pagodas and frozen lakes of the Summer Palace, built by China’s last imperial dynasty. The three-day relay ends at Beijing’s Bird’s Nest Stadium where the Olympics’ opening ceremony kicks off Friday evening.
11:18 a.m. Japanese figure skating champion Yuzuru Hanyu says he is aiming to grab his third Olympic gold medal with a quadruple axel, a jump never successfully landed in competition. “For that, I know I’ll definitely need everyone’s power, so please cheer me on,” the 27-year-old says in a video message to fans.
6:14 a.m. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sends a message to Chinese President Xi Jinping congratulating him on the Winter Olympics as a “great victory” and vowing to improve relations between the two neighbors, state news agency KCNA reports.
1:45 a.m. The threat of war between Russia and Ukraine is the biggest risk for insurers offering coverage during Beijing’s Winter Olympics as an outbreak of hostilities could force team withdrawals or appearance cancellations, Reuters reports, citing industry sources.
12:43 a.m. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the U.S. has a moral duty to condemn China’s rights abuses, but she urges American athletes not to risk angering the “ruthless” Chinese government. Pelosi, speaking at a Congressional-Executive Commission on China hearing, says the International Olympic Committee “turns a blind eye” to Beijing’s rights violations.
1:38 a.m. China expresses “understanding and support” for Russia’s position on security after a meeting between the two countries’ foreign ministers. Washington and its allies warn that Moscow is readying troops to invade Ukraine, a claim Russia denies.
Thursday, Feb. 3
11:15 p.m. Japanese snowboarder Rina Yoshika suffered a heavy fall in training on the slopestyle course at the Genting Snow Park and will return home. She crash-landed on one of the jumps during a practice run and lay motionless before a medical team rushed to help.
9:17 p.m. Hundreds of Tibetan activists march on the International Olympic Committee headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, accusing the IOC of complicity in “atrocities” committed against ethnic minorities in China by awarding the Games to Beijing.
9:07 p.m. The Czech Republic’s David Krejci, one of the biggest names in the Olympic men’s ice hockey tournament, tests positive for COVID-19 upon arrival in Beijing. Krejci, who won a Stanley Cup with the NHL’s Boston Bruins before returning to play in the Czech Extraliga this season, was isolating in his room at the athletes village.
6:00 p.m. Japan’s speed skating coach, Johan de Wit, has joined the lengthening list of COVID-19 positives at the Games. He says he is in isolation and will have to support the team “from a distance.”
3:30 p.m. German pairs figure skater Nolan Seegert is out of the teams event after testing positive for COVID-19 a second time. He is isolating in a hotel.
12:08 p.m. Hong Kong action and comedy star Jackie Chan carries the Olympic torch along the Great Wall as temperatures plummet to minus 11 degrees C (12 Fahrenheit). Chan, 67, told reporters after his brief run atop the historic landmark: “I woke up at 4 a.m. … I’m very happy. I’m also cold!”
12:00 p.m. A total of 55 new COVID-19 infections have been detected among athletes, team officials and Games personnel, the highest daily tally so far. Since Jan. 23, some 287 infections have been spotted from a total of 610,000 tests.
10:59 a.m. President Xi Jinping says China is ready to hold a “safe and splendid” Winter Games despite rising COVID-19 cases and as some infected athletes cancel their plans to compete at the global showcase.
4:12 a.m. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz tells broadcaster ZDF he has “no travel plans” when asked whether he will attend the Beijing Winter Olympics. He says, “It cannot be assumed that I will suddenly turn up.”
12:21 a.m. Russian President Vladimir Putin is to fly to Beijing on Thursday and will meet Chinese President Xi Jinping for talks on Friday before attending the Olympic opening ceremony, the Kremlin says. The visit comes as tensions soar between Moscow and the West over Ukraine.
Wednesday, Feb. 2
4:00 p.m. Winter sports powerhouse Norway will likely top the medals table for a second consecutive Olympics, but host China could win a record 13 medals, including six golds, says a forecast from data analysts Nielsen Gracenote. Team China’s previous Olympic success has been in a handful of sports, including figure skating, freestyle skiing, snowboarding and speed skating.
12:27 p.m. Some 32 new COVID-19 infections have been detected among athletes and Games personnel, the event’s organizing committee says. The new cases were found in airport arrivals and also those living inside the “closed-loop” bubble that separates Olympic participants from the public.
12:15 p.m. About 46% of Americans polled approve of Washington boycotting the Winter Games, while 22% are not in favor of the diplomatic rebuke to China’s rights record, says a new Pew Research Center survey. Another 31% are unsure about the move, the U.S.-based think tank says.
10:45 a.m. The Winter Olympics torch relay starts with a launch ceremony at the Olympic Forest Park in Beijing. Over the three-day relay, more than 1,000 torchbearers will carry the flame past historical landmarks, including the Great Wall.
Tuesday, Feb. 1 (Tokyo time)
1:12 p.m. Games organizers are aiming to fill venues to at least 30% capacity despite China’s strict rules to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the International Olympic Committee says. Tickets are not being sold to the general public, but are instead being distributed to “targeted” groups.
12:00 p.m. Two dozen new cases of COVID-19 have been detected among athletes and Games personnel, according to the event’s official website. That brought the total since Jan. 23 to some 200 infections among airport arrivals and inside a “closed-loop” bubble, but those numbers are within the “expected controllable range,” according to a senior official at China’s Olympics Pandemic Prevention and Control Office, Reuters reports.
11:34 a.m. Taiwan’s Winter Olympic team will attend the opening and closing ceremonies after being told by the International Olympic Committee it was required to participate. On Friday, Taiwan had said the team would not attend, blaming delayed flights and tough anti-COVID-19 rules.
10:25 a.m. The Olympic torch relay will kick off Wednesday on a shorter-than-usual route that starts at Beijing’s Olympic Forest Park, but only hand-picked members of the public will be on hand to watch the three-day event because of strict COVID-19 rules.
7:00 a.m. America’s FBI warns of possible cyberattacks at Beijing’s Winter Games, saying that hackers could try to disrupt events and steal or leak “sensitive data.” The U.S. police agency also cautioned athletes to use temporary mobile phones to avoid the theft of personal information from their own devices.
Monday, Jan. 31 (Tokyo time)
9:00 p.m. Two Democratic U.S. lawmakers, Sen. Jeff Merkley and Rep. James McGovern, write to the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, urging the group to prepare to defend American athletes from possible Chinese government retaliation should they choose to speak out about China’s rights abuses during the Beijing Winter Olympics.
A Chinese official told reporters in January that any behavior against the Olympic spirit, and “especially against Chinese laws and regulations,” would be subject to punishment.
1:37 p.m. A Chinese figure skating judge suspended for giving preferential marks to his compatriots will serve on a technical judging panel at Beijing’s Winter Olympics, Reuters reports, citing competition records. Huang Feng received a one-year suspension in June 2018 for biased judging of pairs figure skating at the Pyeongchang Olympics that year, the agency says.
12:54 p.m. Beijing 2022 organizers report another 37 new COVID-19 infections among people linked to the Games, including eight athletes or team officials, according to the event’s official website. Nine positive cases were detected inside the “closed loop” — in which Olympics participants and staffers can move within a bubble but not around the city. On Sunday, organizers reported 34 new infections.
10:05 a.m. Foreign journalists are facing “unprecedented hurdles” covering China, a new report says, as the world’s press descends on the country to cover the Winter Games.
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China (FCCC) said Beijing was blocking and discrediting independent reporting while also cutting off new visas and expelling some members of the press.
“With China pulling out all the stops for the Olympic Games, the FCCC is troubled by the breakneck speed by which media freedom is declining in China,” the organization said in a survey published Monday.
“China’s approach to foreign journalists is in direct contrast to its own stated policies for foreign media and the Olympic spirit of excellence, friendship, and respect.”
Some 99% of journalists in this year’s survey said reporting conditions did not meet what they considered to be international standards, it added.
Sunday, Jan. 30
2:00 p.m. Beijing Olympics organizers say 34 new coronavirus infections have been detected among personnel related to the Games, Reuters reports — about a third of them athletes and team officials. Twenty-three of the cases were new arrivals, while 11 were already in the “closed loop” — in which Olympics participants and staffers can move within a bubble but not around the city. Under the rules, athletes who test positive and show no symptoms are released from isolation only after testing negative twice, 24 hours apart, according to the report.
Saturday, Jan. 29
3:03 p.m. The U.S. denies a report in Chinese state media claiming it was attempting to disrupt the Games by enticing athletes to make halfhearted efforts in competition and to criticize Beijing. “We were not and are not coordinating a global campaign regarding participation at the Olympics,” a U.S. Embassy spokesperson tells Reuters.
On Friday, China Daily, an English-language newspaper run by the Chinese Communist Party, cited unnamed sources as saying U.S. “anti-China forces” sought to “maliciously disrupt and spoil” the Games and politicize sports.
12:40 p.m. Beijing 2022 organizers log a total of 36 new COVID-19 infections among related personnel, Reuters reports. Nineteen were athletes or team officials who tested positive upon arrival on Friday.
9:40 a.m. Human rights advocates have urged athletes and sponsors to speak out during the Beijing Games, underscoring the tense political atmosphere. Activists representing Chinese dissidents and minority Uyghurs and Tibetans spoke at an online news conference organized by Human Rights Watch on Friday, according to The Associated Press.
“Your silence is their strength,” said Lhadon Tethong, director of the Tibet Action Institute, appealing to athletes from the West and elsewhere to take a stand against what activists — and some governments — have labeled “genocide.” “I personally believe that you should use your platform and your privilege and this historic opportunity. You have to speak out against the wave of genocide,” she said.
China denies all allegations of abuse and has warned against political statements at the Games. “Any behavior or speeches that are against the Olympic spirit, especially against Chinese laws and regulations, are also subject to certain punishment,” Yang Shu, deputy director general of Beijing 2022’s International Relations Department, said earlier this month.
2:20 a.m. The Canadian Olympic Committee says five members of its 246-person Olympic delegation have been placed in Beijing’s COVID-19 protocols, Reuters reports.
1:15 a.m. Taiwan’s team of 15 athletes, competing under the name “Chinese Taipei,” will not participate in the opening or closing ceremonies of the Beijing Games. The announcement by Taiwanese officials comes amid concern that Beijing could use the Games to make a statement concerning the status of the self-ruled island, which China considers a renegade province.
Friday, Jan. 28
3:30 p.m. Chinese President Xi Jinping will attend the opening ceremony of the Winter Games and hold a welcoming banquet for a string of heads of state and other dignitaries, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Cambodia’s King Norodom Sihamoni and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, China’s Foreign Ministry said. Others expected to attend the opening ceremony include U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and International Olympic Committee head Thomas Bach, it added.
12:30 p.m. Twelve cases of COVID-19 were detected among Games-related personnel on Thursday, organizers reveal, according to Reuters. Of the dozen, 10 were new arrivals at the airport, while the others were found in the Olympics’ “closed-loop” virus bubble.
11:05 a.m. China will let the U.N. rights chief Michelle Bachelet visit its scandal-hit Xinjiang region after the Winter Olympics wrap up, the South China Morning Post reported, citing unnamed sources. The visit is set to happen sometime in the first half of the year, the paper said.
Rights groups have accused China of human rights abuses against Uyghurs and other minority groups in the far-western region, including torture, forced labor and the mass detention of about 1 million people.
Beijing, which denies those claims, insisted that Bachelet’s office hold off on publishing a report into the region before it hosts the global sports showcase, the Post said.
3:36 a.m. The three villages for athletes are now open — under a strict COVID-19 bubble policy. Besides observing the coronavirus rules, some delegations including the U.S. and Canada have advised their team members not to bring their own mobile devices due to cybersecurity concern.