by Mike Brock
Special Correspondent to The Expositor
BEIJING – The Olympic flag in Tokyo was lowered on August 8, 2021. It flies again in Beijing, China on February 4.
Just 180 days after the Summer Games ended, with many of the same challenges being met, the world’s best winter athletes are currently gathering for two weeks of sporting excellence. Over the next few weeks, we’ll get you organized so you know what to watch, and when. Here are some of the storylines, and tidbits to get you in an Olympic frame of mind.
It is the second time in 14 years that Beijing, a city of 21 million, will host the Olympic Games and it will be the first time that a city has hosted both the Summer Games (2008) and a Winter Games. You’ll even recognize a few of the venues. The National Aquatics Centre—known as the “Water Cube” when Michael Phelps was dominating Lane 4 in 2008—has been converted into the curling venue. Capital Indoor Stadium, original host of the volleyball tournament at the Summer Games, will host the figure skating and short-track skating competitions.
As with most Olympics, there are storylines beyond the sidelines at these Games. Perhaps the biggest controversy, and one that generated calls for boycotts from all corners of the world, were the accusations that China has mistreated its Uyghur population, including accusations of genocide. While there will be no athletes boycotting the Games, there are a number of countries that have joined together for a “diplomatic boycott.” Canada, along with the US, UK and Australia will not be sending any government officials or diplomats to China.
Despite these controversies, and other world issues – especially the ongoing COVID situation – the athletes will be ready. They have trained their whole lives for these few weeks, and have done everything in their power to avoid these distractions.
After watching Team Canada have their most successful Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Canada’s winter athletes are ready for the spotlight. Here are a few Canadians to look out for:
Mikael Kingsbury, Freestyle Skiing Moguls
Kingsbury is nothing short of the greatest moguls skier in history. He is the defending Olympic champ, and he has won 70 World Cup events in the last decade. Dominant as any athlete in any sport has ever been, Kingsbury is the clear favourite heading into Beijing.
Mark McMorris, slopestyle snowboarding
Hot off a win in the slopestyle event this weekend at The X Games in Aspen, McMorris has certainly had a safer lead up to these Olympics. Prior to the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, McMorris suffered life-threating injuries in a backcountry crash. While he was able to pull out a bronze medal in Korea, he’ll be looking to add Olympic Gold to an already brilliant career.
Kim Boutin, speed skating
She won three medals in Peyongchang (S 1000m/B 1500m/B 500m), and Boutin comes to these Games as the clear leader of the Canadian team, and riding recent successes on the World Cup circuit and the World Championships, she should be a medal contender in Beijing.
Justin Kripps, bobsled
If you can’t beat ‘em, tie ‘em. At least, that’s what Justin Kripps did in Peyongchang, tying the dominant Germans for first place and the gold medal in the two-man bobsled with brakeman Alex Kopacz. He’ll be in the mix again this time around (his fourth Olympics) for both the two-man and four-man races.
Marielle Thompson, ski cross
Thompson was the Olympic champion in this event at Sochi in 2014. However, four months before Peyongchang, she crashed while training and ruptured her ACL. While she was able to compete, she’ll be looking to cap off her already brilliant resume—24 World Cup wins, three overall World Cup titles—with another Olympic Gold in February.
As far as Canada’s hockey teams go, there will be lots to watch for, too. The NHL will not be sending any players this time but the men’s hockey tournament promises some great hockey with a lot of drama. While there’s a good chance that the women’s tournament finishes up with another classic gold medal game between Canada and the USA, there are other countries that have closed the gap.
The Opening Ceremonies will take place on Friday, February 4. Next week, we’ll have a viewing guide for the first week of competitions.