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The Beijing Olympics officially kick off on Feb. 4. Here’s a primer on the key Canadian athletes and teams, important events and when to watch

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Illustration by The Globe and Mail (source: AP, CP, Reuters, AFP/Getty Images)

Despite multiple protests and calls for cancellation, the Omicron wave of the COVID-19 pandemic leading to a global surge in cases, and a Chinese tennis star who was once feared missing, the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing are on. In the days to come, athletes from around the world will arrive in Beijing to compete for medals and international glory. The Beijing Games take place from Feb. 4 to Feb. 20, with some official competitions beginning as early as Feb. 2.

With a global diplomatic boycott in which Canada, the United States and the European Union are refusing to send consular officials to cheer on their Olympic athletes, and countries on high alert over security concerns, the stage is set for a very political Games. China has banned international spectators, meaning the only fans at the Olympic Village will be local, in accordance with the country’s pandemic measures. But the show will go on. Here’s everything you need to know about the Games this year.

Canadian athletes to watch

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Marie-Philip Poulin of Canada skates at an exhibition game against Team USA in Missouri in 2021.Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Marie-Philip Poulin, hockey

Quebec’s Marie-Philip Poulin has established herself as one of the best hockey players in the world, winning two gold medals and one silver over the course of three Olympic performances. The last time we saw Poulin was in Missouri in December at the pre-Olympic Rivalry Series, where she scored an overtime goal that helped give Canada a 3-2 victory over the United States. Ms. Poulin was appointed captain of Canada’s Olympic women’s hockey team ahead of the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics, where her team earned a silver medal after a 3-2 shootout loss to the United States. This year, Poulin will be going for her third gold medal in Olympic women’s hockey.

When to watch Marie-Philip Poulin in Beijing
  • Match 1: Canada vs. Switzerland on Wed., Feb. 2 at 11:10 p.m. ET
  • Match 2: Canada vs. Finland on Fri., Feb. 4 at 11:10 p.m. ET
  • Match 3: Canada vs. Russia on Sun., Feb. 6 at 11:10 p.m. ET
  • Match 4: Canada vs. United States on Mon., Feb. 7 at 11:10 p.m. ET
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Mikael Kingsbury skis at a competition this January in Park City, Utah.Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Mikaël Kingsbury, freestyle skiing

Mikaël Kingsbury’s career as an elite athlete is decorated with world-setting records: Kingsbury has collected 11 world-championship medals – six of them gold. He’s a nine-time FIS freestyle World Cup titleholder for both moguls and overall freestyle, has a record 71 World Cup victories and 101 podium finishes. Kingsbury is no stranger to the Olympic stage, taking home a gold medal after Pyeongchang in 2018, and winning silver during the 2014 Games in Sochi. He is favoured to win gold in Beijing despite breaking his back in 2020, and will be looking to reclaim his Winter Olympics title as reigning champ.

When to watch Mikaël Kingsbury in Beijing
  • Men’s moguls qualification on Thurs., Feb. 3 at 6:45 a.m. ET
  • Men’s moguls qualification on Sat., Feb. 5 at 5 a.m. ET
  • Men’s moguls final on Sat., Feb. 5 at 6:30 a.m. ET
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Snowboarder Sebastien Toutant of Canada celebrates winning gold at the Pyeongchang Olympics.Murad Sezer

Sébastien Toutant, snowboarding

Sébastien Toutant is back after making history at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games, where he became the first Olympic gold medallist in the men’s snowboard big-air category. He’s off to a strong season, capturing World Cup gold at the men’s snowboard slopestyle last month. The Quebec-born athlete took home his first world championships medal in March of last year, winning silver in slopestyle in the men’s competition with 82.53 points.

When to watch Sébastien Toutant in Beijing
  • Men’s slopestyle qualification run on Sat., Feb. 5 at 11:30 p.m. ET
  • Men’s slopestyle final run on Sun., Feb. 6 11 p.m.
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Justin Kripps, left, at the four-man bobsleigh World Cup race in Germany this past December.Caroline Seidel/The Canadian Press

Justin Kripps, bobsleigh

British Columbia’s Justin Kripps has pivoted to four-man driving after piloting his two-man bobsled to Olympic gold at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games, in the second-ever tie for an Olympic bobsleigh gold medal with Germany’s two-man team. Hawaiian-born, Kripps is a decorated athlete, winning the overall two-man bobsledding title during the 2017 World Cup and winning silver during the 2017 world championships. The 2022 Games in Beijing will mark Kripps’s first Olympics competing in a four-man bobsled, which includes the pilot, two push athletes in the middle, and a brakeman.

When to watch Justin Kripps in Beijing
  • Four-man heat runs 1 and 2 on Fri., Feb. 18 at 8:30 p.m. ET
  • Four-man heat runs 3 and 4 on Sat., Feb. 19 at 8:30 p.m. ET
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Justine Dufour-Lapointe prepares for a run at a Utah competition.Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Justine Dufour-Lapointe, freestyle skiing

Montreal’s Justine Dufour-Lapointe might never have become an Olympic athlete had it not been for her two older sisters, Maxime and Chloé, whom she said during an interview with Olympics officials used to bribed her with hot chocolate to ski with them when Dufour-Lapointe was 8. Today, all three sisters are famously recognized Olympic athletes, and were inseparable freestyle competitors until Maxime retired in 2018. Dufour-Lapointe had a stunning performance during her Olympic debut at just 19 years old, taking home moguls gold and sharing the podium with sister Chloé at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. The moguls specialist also landed a silver medal at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games.

When to watch Justine Dufour-Lapointe in Beijing
  • Women’s moguls qualification on Thurs., Feb. 3 at 5 a.m. ET
  • Women’s moguls qualification on Sun., Feb. 6 at 5 a.m. ET
  • Women’s moguls final on Sun., Feb. 6 at 6:30 a.m. ET

International athletes to watch

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Mikaela Shiffrin competes in Schladming, Austria, on Jan. 11.The Associated Press

Mikaela Shiffrin, alpine skiing (United States)

Two-time Olympic champion Mikaela Shiffrin has earned her place as a top competitor in the sporting world. The American’s Olympic record includes two golds – in slalom at the 2014 Sochi Games and giant slalom at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games – along with a silver in combined in 2018. Shiffrin made history when she won the overall titles for slalom, giant slalom and super-G during the 2018 World Cup, coming in first place in 17 out of the 26 World Cup races she had entered. She went on to win the 2020 World Cup in January. The last time we saw Shiffrin was in December, where she dominated the first of two mid-week races on the Emile Allais course at the women’s World Cup shortly before testing positive for COVID-19. Before falling ill, Shiffrin announced her plans to compete in all five alpine skiing competitions at this year’s Beijing Olympics.

When to watch Mikaela Shiffrin in Beijing
  • Women’s giant slalom begins Sun., Feb. 6 at 9:15 p.m. ET
  • Women’s slalom begins Tues., Feb. 8 at 9:15 p.m. ET
  • Women’s super-G on Thurs., Feb. 10 at 10 p.m. ET
  • Women’s downhill on Mon., Feb. 14 at 10 p.m. ET
  • Women’s alpine combined downhill on Wed., Feb. 16 at 9:30 p.m. ET
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Yuzuru Hanyu performs in Saitama, Japan, this past December.Eugene Hoshiko/The Associated Press

Yuzuru Hanyu, figure skating (Japan)

Japanese skater Yuzuru Hanyu is widely regarded as the world’s best figure skater and has the medals to prove it. But this year could see Hanyu’s accomplish his biggest feat yet: mastering the complex quadruple axel jump, which has four-and-a-half revolutions. He attempted the move for the first time in December at the Japanese national championship, but the move was downgraded to a triple axel when he landed on two feet instead of one. Hanyu became the first Asian skater to win an Olympic gold medal in 2014 at the Sochi Olympics, and took home another gold medal four years later at the Pyeongchang Winter Games. He is also a two-time world champion, four-time Grand Prix final champion and has set 19 world scoring records.

When to watch Yuzuru Hanyu in Beijing
  • Men’s single short program on Mon. Feb. 7 at 8:15 p.m. ET
  • Men’s single free program on Wed., Feb. 9 at 8:30 p.m. ET
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Erin Jackson competes in Milwaukee this past Jan. 8.Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Erin Jackson, speed-skating (United States)

Erin Jackson is going for gold in Beijing. Jackson slipped during U.S. qualifying trials and placed third – one spot shy of qualifying for the Winter Games – but then received a berth to Beijing when trials winner and teammate Brittany Bowe gave up her spot. Jackson became the first Black woman to win a World Cup speed skating event in November of last year, and was ranked first in the world in the 500-metre event, winning four out of eight World Cup races this season.

When to watch Erin Jackson in Beijing
  • Women’s speed-skating 1,500m on Mon., Feb. 7 at 3:30 a.m. ET
  • Women’s speed-skating 1,000m on Thurs., Feb. 17 at 3:30 a.m. ET
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Suzanne Schulting celebrates her victory at competitions in Bulgaria in 2019.Ivo Paunov/The Associated Press

Suzanne Schulting, short-track speed-skating (Netherlands)

After speed-skating her way to victory during the Pyeongchang Winter Games in 2018, Netherlands athlete Suzanne Schulting told Olympics interviewers that she was “addicted” to winning. Schulting’s gold in short-track marked a first for the Netherlands. She is a six-time world championship winner and won all five events at the 2021 world short-track speed-skating championships in March.

When to watch Suzanne Schulting in Beijing
  • Women’s 500m short-track speed-skating heats on Sat., Feb 5 at 6 a.m. ET
  • Women’s 500m short-track speed-skating quarters, semis and finals on Mon., Feb 7 starting at 6:30 a.m. ET
  • Women’s 1,000m short-track speed-skating heats on Wed., Feb 9 at 6:40 a.m. ET
  • Women’s 1,000m short-track speed-skating quarters, semis and finals on Fri., Feb 11 starting at 6 a.m. ET
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China's Eileen Gu smiles after competing in Aspen, Colo., last March.The Canadian Press

Eileen Gu, freestyle skiing (China)

Perhaps the most intriguing athlete on this list is Eileen Gu, an American-born freestyle skier competing for China. The California native has been hailed as a prodigy after successfully landing the world’s first forward double-cork 1440 in November of last year – at the age of 18. Gu has been collecting titles as she prepares for her Olympic debut at the Beijing Winter Games. She won her third consecutive World Cup event in January, with a score of 92.80, and was a favourite of the Winter Youth Olympic Games in 2020, where she took home gold medals in halfpipe and big air.

When to watch Eileen Gu in Beijing
  • Women’s freestyle big-air qualifications on Sun., Feb. 6 at 8:30 p.m. ET
  • Women’s freestyle big-air final on Mon., Feb. 7 at 9 p.m. ET
  • Women’s freestyle halfpipe qualifications on Wed., Feb. 16 at 8:30 p.m. ET
  • Women’s freestyle halfpipe final on Thurs. Feb. 17 at 8:30 p.m. ET

Who’s not coming?

Players from the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association will be skipping this year’s Beijing Olympics. According to a source with knowledge of the discussions, the NHL was concerned the Olympics would cause too large of a disruption to the season.

Canada, along with a growing list of Western countries, have also refused to send diplomatic representatives to the Games, in a repudiation of China’s abusive treatment of Uyghur minorities in Xinjiang province and its crackdown on civil liberties and free speech in Hong Kong.

North Korea has also announced it will be opting out of the Beijing Olympics, after already being banned by the International Olympic Committee for refusing to send a team to the Tokyo Summer Games last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. North Korean officials cited “hostile forces” and the risks associated with COVID-19 as preventing them from attending, although it is unclear which “forces” they are referring to.

Top teams to watch

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Sebastien Toutant of Team Canada competes in the Men's Snowboard Slopestyle competition at the Toyota U.S. Grand Prix on Jan. 8, in Mammoth, California.Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Canada snowboarding

This year’s Team Canada is being touted as one of the strongest yet, and includes four medallists from previous Olympic Winter Games. Sébastien Toutant, Mark McMorris and Max Parrot are returning for their third consecutive Winter Games, and Beijing will see athletes compete in the first-ever mixed team snowboard cross.

Sweden curling

Sweden’s women and men’s curling teams have been dominating Olympics and world championships for years. The Swedish women’s team has won the most gold medals in curling out of any country, conquering Pyeongchang in 2018, Vancouver in 2010 and Salt Lake City in 2002. The Swedish men’s team, meanwhile, have taken home world championship gold for the past three years and won a silver medal in Pyeongchang.

New additions

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Elena Meyers Taylor of the United States races in the women's monobob in Switzerland on Jan. 15.Mayk Wendt/Keystone via AP

Bobsled: Women’s monobob

The women’s mono-bobsleigh event was finally put on the program after gaining momentum during the Youth Olympic Games at 2016 Lillehammer and 2020 Lausanne. The new event, where Olympic fans will watch solo competitors, aims to put the focus on the driver’s skills that will see athletes compete in identical bobs.

When to watch women’s monobob events in Beijing
  • Women’s monobob runs 1 and 2 on Sat., Feb. 12 at 8:30 p.m. ET
  • Women’s monobob runs 3 and 4 on Sun., Feb. 13 at 8:30 p.m. ET

Freestyle skiing: Mixed team aerials

The mixed team aerials event has long been a favourite at International Ski Federation competitions, rearing its head at the FIS freestyle skiing World Cup program in the 2014-15 season and at the FIS world championships since 2019. Mixed teams of three will be jumping for gold during the Beijing Winter Olympics.

Mixed team aerials freestyle skiing events in Beijing
  • Mixed team aerials on Thurs., Feb. 10 at 6 a.m. ET
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Skaters from Hungary, Russia and France compete in Germany in 2020.Jens Meyer/The Associated Press

Short-track speed skating: Mixed team relay

Short-track speed skating is not a new sport, but the mixed-team relay will make its Olympic debut at this year’s Beijing Games, in an event where a thousandth of a second often means the difference between a gold and silver medal. The mixed event was featured at the Youth Winter Olympics in 2012, and has been centre stage at the short-track speed skating World Cup since the 2018-19 season. Athletes competing in Beijing will participate in a 2,000-metre race in which four skaters cover 18 laps of the track.

Mixed short-track speed skating events in Beijing
  • Short-track speed-skating mixed-team relay quarters, semis and finals begin on Sat. Feb. 5 at 7:20 a.m. ET

Ski jumping: Mixed team event

The ski jumping mixed-team event is finally making its Olympic debut, 10 years after it surfaced at the World Cup in 2012. Each team will include two men and two women who will take turns jumping off hill tops in Beijing.

Mixed ski jumping events in Beijing
  • Mixed-team ski jumping 1st round and final begins Mon. Feb. 7 at 6:45 a.m. ET
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A competitor from Korea makes a practice run in Lillehammer, Norway, on Jan. 22.Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Snowboarding: Mixed team snowboard cross

The snowboard cross mixed team event is shaping up to be one of the most exciting new additions to the Winter Olympics program. The Olympics committee has praised the event for its “thrilling” format, which they say will see a maximum of 16 teams with two athletes per team “battle it out in a knockout event that will culminate with a frenetic big final, in which four teams will attempt to win the first Olympic gold medal in the event’s history.”

Mixed snowboard cross events in Beijing
  • Mixed-team snowboard cross quarters, semis and final begins on Fri., Feb. 11 at 9 p.m. ET

What to look for off the field

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Amnesty International activists in Paris protest against human-rights violations in China.Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters

Protests expected

Outside of the Olympic Village, China is facing a barrage of criticism from other countries over its human-rights record and civil liberties crackdown in which journalists and activists have been jailed for speaking out against the communist regime.

What has become known as the “Great Firewall’ was thrust into the spotlight last year when Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai disappeared from the public eye for 18 days after accusing former Chinese Communist Party leader Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault. She resurfaced in mid-November, but her reappearance did little to calm security fears.

Protests around the world have led to mounting concerns over whether Beijing should be holding an international event – and whether participating athletes will be safe to compete.

In response, Beijing officials announced they will be enforcing Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter this year, which states that “no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites.” Last year, the rule had been relaxed to allow silent and respectful gestures. But in light of recent safety concerns, Beijing 2022 officials said any behaviour that violates the Olympic spirit or Chinese rules could be subject to punishment.

The Tokyo Olympics last year were fraught with protest as Japan contended with opposition to Rule 50, which banned on-podium protests during the Summer Games. The opening ceremony was met with jeers and shouts from the audience and more than 150 athletes, academics and social justice advocates signed an open letter demanding changes to the rule. The letter included signatories such as Black U.S. sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who were expelled from the 1968 Olympics after they bowed their heads and raised black-gloved fists on the podium to protest against racial inequality.

It would not be surprising to see more protests during this year’s Winter Games, as condemnation against China intensifies.

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A Red Cross ambulance paramedic wears a protective suit at Beijing's main Olympic media centre.Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters

New COVID-19 restrictions in effect

As with the Summer Olympics in Tokyo in 2021, public-health measures will be taking centre stage throughout this year’s Games. Already, Olympics-related staff members, volunteers and drivers are being cocooned inside a sealed-off bubble of stadiums, hotels and conference centres known as the “closed loop” in downtown Beijing. The closed loop began on Jan. 4 and opened on Jan. 23, when athletes, their coaches and journalists who arrived for the Games were to be escorted to and from the loop until they leave the country.

But while athletes competed in empty arenas and stadiums last year, local spectators will be allowed to cheer on competitors from inside designated arenas and stadiums.

“Local spectators will be at the stands. Local means not only Chinese, it means even a lot of international residents that will cheer for their home teams,” Juan Antonio Samaranch, the International Olympic Committee’s head of the co-ordination commission for the Beijing Winter Games, said in October.

“We have the agreement with the organizing committee that it would be something desirable to have more internal flags, more variety of spectators, and we are working very much in that line.”

How to watch

CBC, Bell Media (TSN and RDS), Rogers Media (Sportsnet) and Telelatino Network (TLN) will all be streaming this year’s Beijing Winter Olympics. CBC’s live streams can be found through the CBC website, the CBC Olympics app and CBC Gem.

With reports from The Globe and Mail’s Rachel Brady, The Canadian Press, The Associated Press and Reuters

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