The Beijing Winter Olympics, pulled off inside a tightly restricted closed loop, is now officially over, punctuated with an elaborate round of Sunday night fireworks.
The world’s best winter athletes walked into Sunday’s closing ceremony at Beijing’s National Stadium to the tune of Ode To Joy, Team Canada decked in off-white Lululemon gear and draped in Canadian flags. The country won 26 medals in Beijing: four gold, eight silver and 14 bronze, good for fourth in the overall medal table behind Norway, the Russian Olympic Committee and Germany.
“Let’s not gloss over how difficult these last two years were for Team Canada, that in my estimation, had to endure the most restrictive sort of COVID protocols of any nation,” said Canadian Olympic Committee chief executive David Shoemaker, noting that Canada’s athletes train and compete across a big country and many train in Europe. “So we feel completely satisfied with this performance.”
There had been much fear and anxiety in the leadup to the Games about the possibility of testing positive, being stuck in an isolation hotel in China or not being able to compete.
The COC monitored 125 members of its delegation who had previously been infected with COVID-19 in the months before the Games, meticulously testing and timing travel to give them the best shot at participating. There were a handful of Canadians who had to isolate in the early days of arriving at the Olympics, but no Canadian athlete missed an opportunity to compete because of COVID protocols. That relief was on display in the final days.
“I think there’s been a lot of struggle on the team just to get here,” said speed skater Isabelle Weidemann, chosen as Canada’s flag bearer for the closing ceremony. “I think you can really feel the gratitude just to be able to do what we love.”
In Beijing, her second Olympics, the 26-year-old from Ottawa won a medal of each colour. She took bronze in the 3,000 metres, silver in the 5,000 and gold with Ivanie Blondin and Valérie Maltais in the team pursuit.
Celebrating took a totally different shape at these Games. Athletes, contained inside the loop to venues, villages and hotels, could not take to the streets of wider Beijing to celebrate, to dine, to shop or to be a tourist.
Weidemann said that for athletes who compete in individual sports – and experienced a lot of solo training during the pandemic – being together after winning medals in Beijing felt like celebration enough.
“Just to spend time with our teammates and to talk with our coaches and just celebrate together in one room has been really special. You know, a lot of us don’t do anything for four years, we kind of just train, we focus on our events,” Weidemann said. “The Olympics are the end of that and to be able to sit down with my teammates, who I haven’t celebrated with or even had long conversations with for so long, has been incredibly special.”
Some 220 members of the Canadian delegation stayed in Beijing to march in the closing ceremony, including the country’s most acclaimed team, the women’s hockey squad, still celebrating their gold-medal victory over the archrival Americans.
The lasting images of these Games will include N-95 masks and puffy red and white Lululemon Team Canada gear. Also Bing Dwen Dwen – the ever-present astronaut panda mascot, and the small souvenir version, adorned in a golden wreath, which was given to all medal winners on the podium.
It will be remembered for its kind volunteers in blue and white coats, and those in full hazmat suits, daily throat swabs for every participant inside the Olympic bubble, the fences around every building and seeing Beijing only from buses and trains.
Each venue was eye-popping and uniquely lit, from the Ice Ribbon, to Big Air Shougang. Or the Great Wall-themed and technically sophisticated slopestyle course at Genting Snow Park, where high-flying youngsters on skis and snowboards made headlines, including Eileen Gu, Su Yiming, Max Parrot and the always fascinating Mark McMorris.
Figure skating soaked up much of the attention, too, from the doping scandal that swirled around 15-year-old Russian skater Kamila Valieva, to the duel between the two most intriguing male figure skaters in a generation – Nathan Chen and Yuzuru Hanyu.
In a ceremony with red lanterns lighting the stands inside the National Stadium, the flame was extinguished and attention turned to the next Games hosts – a 2024 Summer Games in Paris, then a Winter Games in Italy in 2026, set for Milano and Cortina.
It’s time for the Games’ participants to leave the loop in China to go home. The loop will not be closing, though. Paralympians from across the globe – including 49 Canadians – are set to arrive for the competition, which runs March 4 to 13.