Beijing Winter Olympics kick off with limited spectators

Koji Ito / The Yomiuri Shimbun
Chinese President Xi Jinping, center, and IOC President Thomas Bach, left, attend the opening ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympic Games at the National Stadium in Beijing on Friday.

BEIJING — The Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics kicked off in the Chinese capital on Friday.

This is the fourth Winter Olympics held in Asia, following Sapporo in 1972, Nagano in 1998 and South Korea’s Pyeongchang in 2018, and it also marks the third consecutive Olympic Games held in East Asia after last summer’s Tokyo Games.

About 2,900 athletes from 91 countries and regions — about the same as at Pyeongchang — are competing in 109 events across seven sports over 17 days through Feb. 20.

With the Tokyo Games postponed for a year due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, the latest event kicked off only half a year after the Summer Games.

Beijing has become the first city in history to host both Winter and Summer Olympics following the 2008 Summer Games. In response to the global outbreak of the omicron variant, the organizing committee decided not to sell tickets to the general public, and instead is only accepting spectators invited as guests. The opening ceremony was also held only with invited guests, among other related parties.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The Olympic rings appear during the ceremony.

Japan’s national team comprises a total of 262 members, including 124 athletes. This exceeds the 123 sent to Pyeongchang, which was then the largest group ever to compete in a Winter Games held overseas.

The team includes Yuzuru Hanyu, 27, who is aiming for a third consecutive gold medal in men’s figure skating, Miho Takagi, 27, who won three medals in women’s speed skating in 2018, and ski jumper Ryoyu Kobayashi, 25. The Japanese athletes are expected to surpass their performance at the Pyeongchang Games, where they won 13 medals.

As was the case in the 2008 Summer Games, the national team of Greece – the birthplace of the Olympics – was the first to be introduced at the opening ceremony. Other countries and regions followed in order of the number of strokes of the first character of their names when written in simplified Chinese.

Japan marched 10th, led by Nordic combined skier Akito Watabe, 33, and speed skater Arisa Go, 34, as flag bearers.

Due to sanctions against systematic doping, Russians are competing as individually qualified athletes belonging to the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC).