Beijing Olympics: Cauldron lit as Winter Games officially get underway; Poulin and Hamelin carry Canada’s flag

Note: This story is no longer being updated.

The latest Olympics news from Beijing and around the world on Friday. Web links to longer stories if available:

10 a.m.: As Canada prepares to send 215 athletes to compete — the third-largest contingent the country has ever sent to a Winter Games — and looks to improve on its 29 medal total from Pyeongchang four years ago, we’ve brought together a special panel to break it all down including Star columnist Dave Feschuk in Beijing, journalists Kerry Gillespie and Joanna Chiu, former world champion and Olympic figure skater Elvis Stojko and veteran sports broadcaster Rod Black, who will host and moderate the discussion.

Join us for this live virtual event on Friday, Feb. 4 at 10 a.m. EST. Submit your questions to the panellists via email to AskNow@thestar.ca. Questions will be addressed during the live event as time permits.

WATCH HERE.

9:30 a.m.: The Olympic flame has now officially arrived at the Beijing Games.

An opening ceremony on a frosty night had a fiery conclusion Friday, when the flame was placed inside a giant snowflake to give China’s first Winter Olympics the symbolic opening — followed by the third major fireworks show of the night.

The snowflake was composed of placards used to introduce the athletes from the 91 different nations that will compete in China through Feb. 20. There was no cauldron to light, the traditional ending to most opening ceremonies.

Competition in some events started Wednesday and Saturday is the first full day of events at the games, with the first medals to be awarded.

It took the flame more than three months to finally make its way to the games. It was lit on Oct. 18 in Ancient Olympia, Greece, the official start of its journey to China.

9:15 a.m.: Days after quietly ringing in the Chinese New Year, Beijing is celebrating the Year of the Tiger on the Olympic stage.

The tiger — a symbol of strength and good luck in Chinese folklore — was featured during Friday’s Winter Olympic opening ceremony. The placard bearers for all 91 countries in the Parade of Nations each wore a unique tiger-head hat, and a children’s choir was outfitted in traditional tiger-head shoes made in the northern Hebei province.

Celebrations for the Lunar New Year were muted across Asia on Monday amid concerns over the coronavirus, but hopes are high that the Year of the Tiger might return some sense of normalcy.

In Chinese mythology, the tiger is considered the king of all animals, and tiger-head hats and shoes are commonly worn by children to ward off demons and bring good luck. The hats created for the placard bearers Friday were designed in blue and white to represent snow and ice, while the shoes worn by the choir were a bright combo of orange, yellow and green.

9 a.m.: Chinese President Xi Jinping declares the Beijing Olympics open, 1st time a city hosts both Winter and Summer Games. Chinese athletes Zhao Jiawen and Dinigeer Yilamujiang deliver the final Olympic flame at the Beijing Games.

8:20 a.m.: Canadian women’s hockey captain Marie-Philip Poulin and short-track speedskater Charles Hamelin waved the Maple Leaf together as they entered the National Stadium on a clear but cold evening.

Bundled up in thick winter gear, they proudly held the flagpole as they led in the 100-strong contingent of Canadian athletes, team officials and support staff.

Sandwiched between Ghana and San Marino, Canada was 27th out of 91 countries to enter the stadium.

Canada didn’t send any official representatives to the Games as part of a diplomatic boycott over China’s record of human rights abuses. Canadian Olympic Committee president Tricia Smith waved to the athletes from the stands.

The ceremony had a more celebratory feel than the rather sombre opening ceremony at the Tokyo Games last summer, the first Olympics to be held during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This was the first ceremony since the COC switched to Lululemon as its outfitter after a 16-year run with Hudson’s Bay.

Canada won 29 medals at the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the most by a Canadian team at a single Winter Olympics.

8:15 a.m.: At least two of the women who would have been flagbearers at the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics were not in the parade of athletes on Friday night because of virus-related issues.

U.S. bobsledder Elana Meyers Taylor had to give up her spot to speedskater Brittany Bowe. Meyers Taylor remains in isolation after a positive test.

And Friday, U.S. Virgin Islands skeleton athlete Katie Tannenbaum revealed that she, too, has tested positive for COVID-19. The Virgin Islands flag was being carried into the stadium by a volunteer.

Tannenbaum is the only athlete representing the Virgin Islands in Beijing at these games. Her coach, Alex Auer, and the nation’s Chef de Mission, Ansen Siglar, were walking to represent the team.

8:15 a.m.: At the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics, no detail is overlooked.

Every nation is being led into the stadium by someone carrying a glowing snowflake-shaped placard bearing that country’s name. And each of the snowflakes, when put back together, would form a larger snowflake.

The placard bearers’ costumes has an ice-and-snow pattern, and their hats have a tiger motif — because this year is the year of the tiger in China.

7:32 a.m.: One hundred members of Team Canada will be marching into the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games, the team said.

7:15 a.m.: In China, Friday was “Lichun” — which translates to the beginning of spring.

And in this case, the start of the Winter Olympics.

Women’s hockey faces tough test, Mikael Kingsbury returns, and plenty of speedskating for Team Canada.

“Beginning of Spring” is the first of the 24 solar terms of the year, and that number — 24 — carried significance in the early moments of the opening ceremony of these Beijing Games. Organizers say it reflects “the Chinese people’s understanding of time,” also noting that these were the 24th Winter Olympics.

The celebration of the lunar terms was punctuated by the first of what will be multiple pyrotechnic displays at the Bird’s Nest — including using fireworks to spell out the word “Spring.”

It’s also a Chinese belief that extreme cold breeds new life. Temperatures were expected to fall as the ceremony goes along; perhaps not extreme cold, but certainly a chilly start to the Beijing Games.

6:30 a.m.: Of the 492 members of the Canadian delegation at the Beijing 2022 Olympic Games, none have tested positive for COVID-19, Team Canada announced Friday morning ahead of the opening ceremony.

5:45 a.m.: The country where the coronavirus outbreak emerged two years ago launched a locked-down Winter Olympics on Friday, proudly projecting its might on the most global of stages even as some Western governments mounted a diplomatic boycott over the way China treats millions of its own people.

Beijing becomes the first city to host both winter and summer Olympic Games. And while some are staying away from the second pandemic Olympics in six months, many other world leaders planned to attend the opening ceremony. Most notable: Russian President Vladimir Putin, who met privately with China’s Xi Jinping earlier in the day as a dangerous standoff unfolds at Russia’s border with Ukraine.

The Olympics — and the opening ceremony — are always an exercise in performance for the host nation, a chance to showcase its culture, define its place in the world, flaunt its best side. That’s something China in particular has been consumed with for decades. But at this year’s Beijing Games, the gulf between performance and reality will be particularly jarring.

5:22 a.m.: In luge, Reid Watts of Whistler, B.C., finished 18th in both the fifth and sixth men’s singles training runs. The first two competitive runs are on Saturday.

5:21 a.m.: Friday’s events were a few of the practices and preliminary competitions leading up to the opening ceremony to officially kick off the Beijing Games. The first medals are handed out Saturday, including in men’s moguls, where defending champion Mikaël Kingsbury of Deux-Montagnes, Que., is a favourite to repeat.

Canada’s men’s hockey team had its practice cancelled Friday. Hockey Canada said the late-afternoon session would have made it difficult for players to attend the opening ceremony. The team is expected to hold its first practice Saturday as it gears up for its game Thursday against Germany.

5:19 a.m.: Six weeks after the NHL pulled out of the Olympics and three weeks since USA Hockey finalized the roster, the full team was finally on the ice together Friday for the first time.

Well, almost the full team.

Star college defenceman Jake Sanderson remained in Los Angeles in coronavirus protocol, while veterans Steven Kampfer and Andy Miele were isolating in the athletes village after testing positive upon arrival.

All 12 teams in the tournament are trying to get up to speed quickly, and the U.S. has the extra hiccup of missing three players, even though there’s hope each can produce two negative tests at least 24 hours apart and be ready by the first game.

“We’re optimistic,” coach David Quinn said after the Americans’ first practice in Beijing. “It’s a day-to-day situation with these guys. We expect them to be back. It’s the world we live in. Every team’s going through it, and we’re no different.”

Each team is dealing with a different degree of difficulty pulling two dozen or more players together in a short period of time. Germany, China and others have tight-knit groups strengthened by established on- and off-ice chemistry, the opposite of Canada and the U.S. blending rosters with players ranging in age from 19 to 37.

5:18 a.m.: In team figure skating, Canada sat sixth after the opening three events and faced an early elimination from a competition it won at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games.

A squad already short on depth was missing Keegan Messing, who remains in Canada awaiting two more negative COVID-19 tests.

Roman Sadovsky, a 22-year-old from Toronto, stepped in for Messing in the men’s short program but had a shaky skate and finished eighth out of nine skaters.

Sadovsky underrotated and two-footed the landing on his quadruple Salchow to finish with 71.06 points.

“Kind of disappointing honestly,” Sadovsky said. “Only because those are mistakes that I don’t usually make. The quad Salchow is a comfort jump for me. It was very successful this season. There was just a slight mishap on the takeoff that didn’t allow me to pull in.”

5:15 a.m.: Canada’s defence of its Olympic mixed doubles curling gold medal is looking a lot more promising.

After splitting its opening two mixed doubles matches Thursday, Canada’s tandem of John Morris and Rachel Homan picked up a pair of wins Friday to move into a tie with Britain for second place in the round-robin standings at 3-1.

Morris, from Canmore, Alta., and Ottawa’s Homan opened with a 7-5 win over Switzerland. The Canadians scored three points in the first end, and had an answer any time the Swiss duo of Jenny Perret and Martin Rios looked to close the gap.

The Canadians followed with an 8-6 win over host China. Homan and Morris had a 4-1 lead after a steal of two in the third end, and held a commanding 8-4 lead entering the eighth and final end.

12:45 a.m. There was one firm rule in the Sharpe household where Olympic halfpipe skier Cassie and Olympic snowboarder Darcy grew up: Be in the truck by 7 a.m. or you don’t go to the mountain.

“They all only missed out one time because they were so bummed they didn’t make it,” Don Sharpe says of children Cassie, Darcy and Doug.

When it came to sporting excellence in this family, the Sharpe kids drove themselves.

There are many families, coaches and sport programs that work hard to foster and develop elite athletes, sometimes controversially so. But Don and Chantal Sharpe raised two Olympians not by design so much as happenstance.

The kids grew up, quite literally, on a mountain: Vancouver Island’s Mount Washington. That’s where Don worked as director of business operations for the mountain resort. And Chantal’s job as a flight attendant for WestJet turned out to be very handy once the kids started travelling to competitions because, as she says, “we’re not made of money.”

It all comes down to “many, many blessings,” she says. “For them to have the athleticism and then develop this love and passion, it just kind of grew from there.”

All the way to the Olympics.

Read the rest from the Star’s Kerry Gillespie.

12:40 a.m. The second men’s downhill ski training session is underway at the Beijing Olympics after a delay due to strong winds.

Overall World Cup leader Marco Odermatt of Switzerland was first to set off down the slope an hour after originally scheduled Friday.

The world’s best skiers only got the chance to see the Rock course up close for the first time on Thursday. There is a third training session scheduled Saturday before the men’s downhill opens the Alpine competition the following day.

11:30 p.m. Canada’s Rachel Homan and John Morris beat Switzerland’s Martin Rios and Jenny Perret 7-5 in mixed doubles curling. They had an earlier 7-6 victory against Norway and will play China later today.

11:20 p.m. Organizers say nine more athletes and officials tested positive for COVID-19 in cases confirmed on Thursday, raising the total to 111 since the Beijing Olympic period started on Jan. 23.

Seven cases were detected at the Beijing airport, making it 77 out of 5,255 athletes and officials who arrived through Thursday. The other two cases came from daily PCR testing that all people inside the Olympic bubbles must undergo.

Organizers say 12 more positive cases were detected among “stakeholders” — mostly workers at the Games including media. Seven of those were at the airport and five in daily tests.

The overall total of positive cases is 308 through Thursday. Almost 12,000 people have arrived in Beijing from outside China.

11 p.m. Organizers have delayed the start of the second men’s downhill training session at the Beijing Olympics due to strong winds.

The session had been scheduled to start at 11 a.m. Beijing time, but organizers will only make a decision then whether it can start at the new scheduled time of noon.

The world’s best skiers only got the chance to see the Rock course up close for the first time on Thursday. There is a third training session scheduled Saturday before the men’s downhill opens the Alpine competition the following day.

Weather is yet another source of stress for competitive skiers who can do nothing to control changing conditions on the slopes.

10:30 p.m. Hours after learning he would be skating, Roman Sadovsky put Canada in eighth place in the figure skating team event at the Beijing Olympics.

The 22-year-old from Toronto had a shaky skate the morning after the Canadian team informed him he’d be stepping in for Canadian champion Keegan Messing, who remains in Canada awaiting a negative COVID-19 test.

“I was told to just stay ready, be prepared,” Sadovsky said on the late notice. “All season I’ve been working towards the Olympic Games. I know the Games have a team event. It’s a little bit of an endurance kind of weekend after all the programs. I came here prepared to do anything, really.”

With no room for error in the short program, Sadovsky underrotated and two-footed the landing on his quadruple Salchow — a jump he said he usually lands comfortably — to finish with 71.06 points.

3:40 p.m. We passed a man in the hazmat suit as he held a fishing net on the side of the airport road, and that was the only inexplicable note. The Beijing Olympics are the Genocide Games, the second pandemic Games, the first second Games of a Chinese century, and the most locked-down Olympics in history. It makes sense, all of it. All of it can be explained.

There has never been an Olympics this captive. Omicron is the sternest test for China’s zero-COVID philosophy, and after two years of reporting almost no cases neighbourhoods in Beijing have again been locked down in the brutalist Chinese fashion, with residents forbidden to leave their houses. Beijing’s Capital Airport, one of the busiest in the world, is a ghost airport handling half-empty flights of Games-associated travellers: International Olympic Committee in-house broadcast crews, the smaller-than-usual army of NBC employees, officials and judges, the athletes from countries that couldn’t afford to charter their own plane, and the motley general media, all of whom take pictures of the airport staff in hazmat suits. No other planes seem to be landing but those.

The daily COVID tests are enthusiastic — the daily throat swab makes just about everybody gag. Journalists and athletes alike are using VPNs on their burner phones or laptops to evade the Great Firewall, and hacking by Chinese security services is assumed. When Canadian government officials get briefed on visits to China, they are told, among other things, that if you log into any account on a Chinese wireless system here, the Chinese government will have access to that account forever.

The Star’s Bruce Arthur has the story.

2:15 p.m. What’s it like to be a Canadian athlete in Beijing’s Olympic Village during a pandemic?

Ahead of the Games starting Friday, Team Canada Biathlete Adam Runnalls is capturing his unique experience over TikTok — sharing an inside look on everything from PCR testing to smart beds — and gaining tens of thousands of views.

When he arrived in Beijing on Sunday, Runnalls stepped foot inside a campus-style residence in the village of Zhangjiakou, located in the northern part of China.

Read the rest from the Star’s Libaan Osman.

2:06 p.m. Long before some of the world’s best athletes got set to march into the Bird’s Nest Stadium on Friday to witness the lighting of the torch, there were calls to pre-emptively extinguish these Winter Olympics.

There were demands to boycott the Games so China’s ever-emboldened authoritarian regime wouldn’t benefit from them — an outcome that, if the history lesson of the West’s boycott of the 1980 Moscow Games taught us anything, punishes athletes and changes almost nothing. And then there was the Green Party’s big idea, raised little more than a year ago, to move the Games to Vancouver — a hypothetical fantasy that drew a chuckle from a man named John Furlong, who once organized an Olympics in that city, and who made it clear that such an endeavour would require years of careful lead time, not harried months.

So here we are, on the eve of a Chinese Winter Games, and the question beyond the field of play is a doozy: knowing what we know about China’s blatant disregard for human rights, not to mention the surveillence-state tendencies that have led multiple countries to recommend their athletes and officials arrive here with burner phones and laptops, it possible to watch this televised spectacle of snow and ice with a clear conscience?

Read the latest from The Star’s Dave Feschuk.

1:12 p.m. It’s quite a thing to see a 68-year-old Bavarian lawyer perform as a contortionist, but perhaps that’s just part of the magic of the Olympics. Thomas Bach is the president of the International Olympic Committee, which is a difficult job. It’s a big world. Bringing it together means complications.

So the night before the opening of the Beijing Olympics, Bach did what he so often does when threatened: he tried to retreat into the comforting, imaginary safety of neutrality. The Olympics must exist above politics, he said, and instead float in the soft gauzy fog of perfect human equilibrium. He said it in Beijing, in China, in 2022.

“With this vision, we are all and we must be all equal, irrespective of social background, gender, race, sexual orientation or political belief,” said Bach, in his Games-opening news conference. “In the Games, in the Olympic Village in particular, there is no discrimination … we can only achieve and we can only accomplish this mission to unite everybody in this peaceful competition if the Olympic Games stand above and beyond all the political disputes. This is also only possible if the Olympic Games and the IOC are politically neutral, and do not become a tool to achieve political goals.”

Check out the full story from the Star’s Bruce Arthur.

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