The 2022 Winter Olympics officially began Friday with the opening ceremony at the famed “Bird’s Nest” stadium in Beijing, the first city to ever host a Winter and Summer (2008) Games.
And now it’s time to really focus on the competitions.
The first medals of the 2022 Olympics will be handed out on Saturday in Beijing, beginning with cross-country skiing.
There are six medal events on Saturday: the women’s 15-kilometer skiathlon, women’s 3,000 meters (long track speed skating), men’s moguls (freestyle skiing), biathlon mixed relay, short track speed skating mixed relay and women’s normal hill individual ski jumping.
There are 109 medal events at the 2022 Beijing Games.
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Norway’s Therese Johaug won the first gold medal of the 2022 Beijing Olympics, dominating the women’s 15-kilometer skiathlon Saturday.
Johaug finished in 44 minutes, 13.7 seconds Saturday, which was 30 seconds ahead of silver medalist Russia’s Natalia Nepryaeva. Teresa Stadlober of Austria took the bronze.
Jessie Diggins finished sixth, the top American in the race.
Johaug, who missed the 2018 Olympics due to a doping suspension, won the first individual Olympic gold of her career. She won silver and bronze in individual events in Sochi and a relay gold in Vancouver in 2010.
Four years ago in Pyeongchang, Diggins claimed the first ever U.S. women’s Olympic gold medal in cross country skiing with teammate Kikkan Randall in the team sprint.
Diggins is the most decorated American cross country skier in world championship history and last year she became the first U.S. skier to win the Tour de Ski.
Her next opportunity for a medal could be Tuesday when she competes in the freestyle sprint.
BEIJING — The U.S. mixed doubles curling team picked up another key win Saturday, defeating host China, 7-5, roughly 24 hours after squeaking out a win over Sweden.
With those two victories, the team of Vicky Persinger and Chris Plys moved to 3-2 at the midway point of round-robin play. They are now sitting in a tie for fourth place out of 10 teams, with four matches to go.
The top four teams advance to the semifinal round.
Persinger and Plys’ next match against Canada at 7:05 a.m. ET will be particularly pivotal, with the neighboring countries now tied for that fourth and final spot. The U.S. will then face the Czech Republic and Switzerland on Sunday, and Great Britain on Monday.
— Tom Schad
BEIJING — It’s tough to learn a new downhill course when you can’t ski it.
The third and final training run for the men’s downhill was canceled after just three skiers Saturday because of wind gusts. The forecast for Sunday’s race is more promising, referee Markus Waldner said.
“Two hours before we started at 11 it was good enough to go — similar to yesterday. Also, during the forerun — we had five forerunners — it was good enough to go. Safe,” Waldner said. “But then, suddenly, wind gusts were coming. … (We decided) this is dangerous. It’s unpredictable. We cannot handle this.”
The decision was criticized by some skiers, who already felt they were at a disadvantage because no one had been on the course until the first training run Thursday. There also were complaints that the three skiers who did get a run in, one of whom was gold-medal favorite Aleksander Aamodt Kilde, will have an advantage in Sunday’s race.
“Of course I can accept all this criticism coming from the racers, some coaches, that this is an advantage for the three racers,” Waldner said. “But this is force majeure. We’re an outdoor sport, force majeure, and we make always decisions in terms of safety.
“Due to safety we made this decision, very simple.”
Normally, skiers are able to familiarize themselves with the Olympic course at test events ahead of the Games, but those were canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. With Thursday the first time they could ski the course, many used their initial training run to simply take mental stock, noting the terrain, turns and jumps on the run. The remaining two runs would then be used to build speed and find areas where they could be aggressive.
But they’ll have to make do with what they got Thursday and Friday.
Bryce Bennett, the top-ranked American in the downhill this season, said he didn’t have a problem with the decision to cancel. In some ways, he said, it worked out better.
“For me, personally, three training runs is difficult. I think it’s too much,” Bennett said. “You kind of get lackadaisical.
“We got some good inspections,” he added. “I got two inspections today, and I think it’ll work out for the better, hopefully, tomorrow. Pray to God I don’t get a headwind. Praying for a tailwind.”
— Nancy Armour
Asked Friday if there was another U.S. athlete she’d like to watch, the two-time Olympic champion named Diggins. Shiffrin said she and her parents were captivated four years ago as they sat in their hotel and watched Diggins and Kikkan Randall win gold in the team sprint at the Pyeongchang Olympics.
It was the first gold medal for the United States in cross-country skiing, and the first medal of any color in the sport since 1976.
“We watched the, ‘Here comes Diggins! Here comes Diggins!’” Shiffrin recalled, referring to NBC commentator Chad Salmela’s exuberant reaction when Diggins caught and passed Sweden’s Stina Nilsson down the stretch.”
Diggins begins competition at the Beijing Olympics on Saturday with the skiathlon, which combines classic and freestyle skiing.
— Nancy Armour
BEIJING — Snowboarder Jamie Anderson is in fifth place after the snowboard slopestyle qualification, leading the way for the U.S. women. The two-time reigning and defending gold medalist scored a 74.35 on her first run, good for a second-place ranking. Her next run was clean until the final moments when she fell.
“I definitely was hoping to get that second run, but I’ll take what I can get,” Anderson told NBC. “I’m excited for tomorrow.”
Fellow American Julia Marino redeemed herself on her second run with a score of 71.78 and sixth place. Rounding out the Americans competing in the final is Hailey Langland in ninth after a clean second run that scored a 68.71. The top 12 advance.
Team USA’s Courtney Rummel finished 18th with a best score of 48.30 and will miss the final.
The final is scheduled to begin Saturday at 8:30 p.m. ET.
— Alex Ptachick
BEIJING — Representatives from the International Olympic Committee and 2022 Beijing organizing committee on Saturday downplayed the inclusion of a Uyghur athlete in the opening ceremony for the Games.
Chang Yu, the director of Beijing 2022’s ceremonies department, said cross-country skier Dinigeer Yilamujiang was selected to help light the torch as part of a generational concept involving athletes born in different decades.
Yilamujiang, 20, hails from the Xinjiang region, where China has been accused of detaining up to one million people in what the U.S. government has deemed “genocide.”
IOC president Thomas Bach has previously declined to answer questions about China’s treatment of Uyghurs, characterizing it as a political issue outside of the IOC’s scope. When asked Saturday about Yilamujiang’s role in lighting the torch, and whether the IOC consulted on the decision, spokesperson Mark Adams demurred.
“Obviously the opening ceremony is something that the organizing committee put together,” Adams said. “We are involved to a certain extent. But I just would go back to what I said earlier, that this is an athlete who is competing here. She has every right – wherever she comes from, whatever her background – to compete. And she has every right – whatever her background, wherever she comes from – to take part in the opening ceremony.”
— Tom Schad
American cross country skiing star Jessie Diggins is back for her third Olympics, and her first event is just hours away.
This time she’s 30 years old, expecting to marry her sweetheart Wade Poplawski, maybe in May. Diggins is a veteran of 240 World Cup races and an Olympic gold medalist. She’s a leader of Team USA and hype girl for her youngest teammates.
She’s poised, always with an eye on the big picture, and impressive in everything she does, from skiing to speaking to bridging groups and causes with friends and newcomers.
She’s also something else: Team USA’s vulnerable, honest, unfiltered badass. Diggins has written a memoir — “Brave Enough” — in which she details her life and career, including her admission and treatment for disordered eating.
Diggins won Olympic gold in the women’s team sprint with her teammate Kikkan Randall in the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics and competed in six events there: team sprint, pursuit, individual sprint individual start, mass start and relay.
Her first event in Beijing is Saturday’s skiathlon, which will air live on USA.
— Lori Nickel
A Dutch television journalist was confronted by a Chinese security guard while on live TV on Friday, in what the IOC described as an “unfortunate incident.”
A clip of the incident shows the journalist, Sjoerd den Daas of NOS Media, being pulled away while trying to deliver a report. IOC spokesperson Mark Adams said the organization had been in communication with NOS Media about the incident.
“I think someone was being overzealous,” Adams said. “(The reporter) was able very quickly afterwards, with the help of officials there, to do his piece to camera, his standup.
“These things do happen. I think it’s a one-off. I hope it’s a one-off. We assure you that within the closed loop, you’ll be able to carry on your work.”
— Tom Schad
In freeskiing and snowboarding, scores mean nothing – well, almost. Rather, the numbers are more of a proxy for athletes’ ranking and less tied to specific tricks in their run, for example, than their overall performance.
Judging for both sports is mostly done by a panel of six international judges, with the highest and lowest scores being dropped.
Unlike other sports, such as gymnastics, there are not component scores. A certain trick does not have a set value. Judges are scoring out of 100 based on overall impression and basically ranking from there.
Execution is critical and can include several things, such as how cleanly athletes are landing tricks, how long they hold their grabs or how long they ride a rail. Difficulty can help an athlete stand out, especially by doing tricks that are harder than their competitors or that have never been done before.
Often runs including tricks with more flips or a higher degree of rotation will be scored higher. Judges will also consider progression, and variety matters too.
Freeskiing and snowboarding have been among the United States’ most successful sports in recent Olympics.
— Rachel Axon
ZHANGJIAKOU – Snowboarder Jamie Anderson went back and forth on whether or not to come to these Winter Olympics in Beijing.
The pandemic, the restrictions, the COVID testing – it just piled on the pressure of someone who already feels it as the USA’s two-time Olympic gold medalist in women’s slopestyle snowboarding.
“It’s definitely a more complicated Olympics. Going to the Olympics is very stressful and you have so much on your plate,” Anderson said at a news conference in the Olympic Village. “And this year it has been an absolute nightmare. Just everything from getting here, I think all of us in the last few months – I was really struggling with everything it took to get here.
But all it took was the very first day on the snow Wednesday for practice runs to reassure her that she made the right decision.
The slopestyle course is massive, and Anderson, 31, said it reminds her of her first Olympics in Sochi where everything was gigantic and intimidating.
“It’s pretty gnarly,” Anderson said. “What’s cool about the Olympics compared to any other event is it’s always on a completely new mountain and completely new setup.”
Anderson will make her first runs on the slopestyle course when women’s qualifying begins at 9:45 p.m. ET (USA Network).
— Lori Nickel
BEIJING – Neither a raging global pandemic nor worldwide concern over China’s awful human rights abuses could stop Beijing from throwing itself a party Friday night at its “Bird’s Nest” National Stadium.
Compared to the last time Beijing gave us an opening ceremony, 14 years ago for the Summer Olympics, it was a muted effort with far fewer spectators, athletes and diplomats. It also was about 70 degrees colder than that sweltering night in August 2008, when the air was so heavy with Beijing’s gritty smog that black residue could be scraped off the skin. This time, it was just bitter cold.
So, for the second Olympics in a row, Beijing organizers created a grand illusion. They sure know how to put on a light show on a stadium floor. If only they were as good at things like freedom of speech and avoiding genocide.
— Christine Brennan
The 2022 Winter Olympics opening ceremony aired lived in the United States early Friday morning, but NBC knows not everyone is an early bird. The network will re-broadcast the Beijing opening ceremony beginning at 8 p.m. ET.
The ceremony opened with fireworks, a lights show and ended with ice hockey players breaking a block of ice to reveal the Olympic rings. Snowflakes with the names of participating countries were held high in front of the large Olympic Rings.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin and IOC President Thomas Bach were in the stands alongside a smaller-than-usual crowd restricted due to COVID-19 regulations.
As is tradition, home country dignitaries and Games organizers will give speeches prior to The Delegations Parade. The first nation to enter the stadium will be Greece, followed by all other delegations in the IOC Protocol order, alphabetically by the language of the host country. Italy (as the next Winter Olympic Games host nation) and the host country China will enter last. The U.S. delegation is No. 56, after Bulgaria.
Make no mistake: Mikaela Shiffrin wants to win.
For Shiffrin, though, winning is the byproduct. Like the student who relishes the grind more than the grade, she is more interested in the things that go into making her one of the best ski racers of all time.
That that painstaking attention to the details – what others might consider drudgery — has resulted in Winter Olympic gold medals, world titles and international commercial appeal is just a bonus.
“The overarching thing that allows me to ski fast and be one of the best racers in the world and get all the titles and all of these things that feel really great and make you feel like you’re a hero and you’re on top of the world and all that, the thing that lets me do it is skiing well. And that’s the thing that I actually enjoy doing,” Shiffrin told USA TODAY.
Shiffrin will be making her Beijing Olympics debut on Monday, Feb. 7, in the women’s giant slalom, where she will seek to defend her 2018 gold medal.
— Nancy Armour
ZHANGJIAKOU, China – The U.S. freeski and snowboard teams will have a different look for the Beijing Olympics thanks to new uniform providers.
Since the 2018 Games, the teams have switched to Spyder and Volcom, respectively, from their longtime partners The North Face and Burton.
This year’s uniforms come with distinct looks for each, offering edgier patterns and multiple layering options that lean less into Americana themes than recent uniforms.
The freeskiing uniforms feature large white and blue color blocks with red accents. The uniforms include jackets, hoodies and reversible vests that allow the athletes to tailor their looks. Uniforms for both teams are created with tech fabrics designed to help athletes keep warm and perform in competition.
The snowboarding uniforms feature five different kits that allow for a layering and a variety of looks. They include a collage print that Volcom intends as a tribute “to the storied history of the legends who have made the Volcom brand what it is today,” and each includes a lucky faux rabbit foot for good luck.
— Rachel Axon
NBC is walking a tightrope at the Beijing Games. The network is covering sports on ice and snow — and news on human rights and genocide.
One of the athletes to light the flame at the opening ceremony is Uyghur, China’s Muslim ethnic minority who are victims of genocide, according to the United States; that is one of the reasons that the U.S. is boycotting these Games diplomatically.
Mike Tirico, NBC’s Olympics host, quickly noted the significance of the flame lighting during the live broadcast of the opening ceremony, which aired on Friday morning in the U.S., and which will repeat Friday evening. “Of course, those are the people from the region of Northwest China that have attracted so much attention in the conversation of human rights,” Tirico said, reporting from the scene.
– Erik Brady
Less than six months after the Summer Games in Tokyo ended, the Winter Games in Beijing open. Getting underway in full on Saturday, there’s a lot of questions surrounding these Olympics.
USA TODAY Sports’ Nancy Armour broke down everything you need to know, from “why Beijing?” to all the must-watch Team USA stars:
Q: Are there new sports or events?
A: Yes! Seven of them. Monobob has been added for women’s bobsled, and there is men’s and women’s Big Air in freestyle skiing. There are four new mixed-team events, in snowboard cross, aerials, short-track speedskating and ski jumping.
The United States won the men’s short program and rhythm dance and are in first place after the day’s team competition. Nathan Chen hit a new personal record of 111.71 in the short program to pace the Americans. The Russian Olympic Committee sits in second place, and China is in third. The women’s short program is Sunday with the top five team advancing to the free skate competition after which medals will be awarded.