Athletes achieve great feats, but Games leave unpleasant aftertaste

The Beijing Winter Olympics end today. The athletes should be commended for their energetic performances in a difficult environment, in which measures against infection were still in place. At the same time, however, they also were an event in which mismanagement and confusing decisions left an unpleasant aftertaste.

Japan’s athletes earned a record number of medals, far exceeding the nation’s 13 medals claimed at the previous Pyeongchang Games.

Miho Takagi nabbed one gold and three silvers in women’s speed skating events. Her career total of seven medals, including those earned at the previous Games, is a remarkable feat that will go down in Olympic history. She invigorated Japan together with Ryoyu Kobayashi, who took gold and silver in individual men’s ski jumping events.

Many people must have been struck dumb by the exciting techniques of Ayumu Hirano, who won gold in the men’s halfpipe snowboarding. Other athletes also did well, including Kokomo Murase, who became a medalist at the age of 17 in the women’s snowboard big air.

Even those who did not get a medal inspired much excitement.

In addition to the efforts of the athletes themselves, the great strides made by the Japan team are also due in large part to the government’s efforts, since the decision was made to hold the Olympics in Tokyo, to enhance athletes’ abilities. The government should continue to nurture young athletes.

It is regrettable, however, that many problems were seen throughout the latest Games, such as ambiguous scoring criteria and dubious decisions, which cast a chill over exciting events. The doping scandal that surfaced during the Games also created a stir.

Competitive sports are premised on athletes competing fairly and equitably. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and other sports organizations should thoroughly investigate the case and present specific remedial measures.

Operational challenges also emerged. Vaccinations were effectively mandatory at the Beijing Games, but many of those involved in the Games were found to have been infected at places such as the Olympic Village and venues that were supposed to be closed to the outside, as well as at airports. A number of promising athletes missed events because they tested positive.

Another problem was that many people were injured during practice and competition in outdoor events. Some have connected this to hard artificial snow and the fact that events were carried out under abnormally low temperatures. For future Winter Olympics, it is essential to examine the causal link.

China’s blatant political use of the Games and its controls were also conspicuous. The Games’ slogan was “Together for a Shared Future,” but China’s Olympic diplomacy with authoritarian countries such as Russia stood out, underscoring its confrontation with the United States and Europe as well as division over human rights issues.

Athletes reportedly put fewer posts on social media than they did during the Tokyo Games. A possibility is that they may have refrained out of fear that freely expressing their thoughts would be viewed negatively by the Chinese authorities.

The Beijing Paralympics start on March 4. They must be conducted in an environment in which athletes can concentrate on their events and fully demonstrate their abilities.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Feb. 20, 2022.