Reflecting on the Beijing Winter Olympics


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ZHANGJIAKOU, CHINA – FEBRUARY 20: Jessie Diggins of Team United States is attended to after collapsing after crossing the finish line and winning silver during the Women’s Cross-Country Skiing 30k Mass Start Free on Day 16 of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics at The National Cross-Country Skiing Centre on February 20, 2022 in Zhangjiakou, China. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Article by Sam Barbir, Writer

Reading Time: 5 minutes

It’d be reasonable to say that the Summer Olympics are more popular than the Winter Olympics. From a personal perspective, I admit that I was glued to the TV during the Tokyo Summer Olympic Games, but barely tuned into the Beijing Winter Olympic Games. Many of you may agree that the Winter Olympic Games aren’t as interesting, but why is that? Perhaps it is because fewer people play the sports involved, the lack of countries participating, or that there are fewer events in general; however, the spectacle is still nonetheless nothing short of exciting—if you know what’s going on, that is. 

The most popular sports to watch during the Winter Olympics are usually figure skating, snowboarding, and speed skating. In a survey conducted in the United States prior to this past Olympic Games, adults who were mildly interested in the event listed their top events; the survey showed that figure skating was rated number one, ski jumping as number two, and speed skating as number three. On the other hand, some of the least watched sports were the skeleton, biathlon, and Nordic combined. Of course, results would differ, depending on the country. 

Do you know what the skeleton, biathlon, and nordic combined even are?  Chances are that you don’t, and may not even have heard of them. Skeleton is a sledding track race that debuted in 1928 involving strength, speed, and precision to maximize the speed of the sled. With a running start, the competitor pushes the sled for about 30-40 meters before leaping onto the sled with their chest down and head in the front. Each sled is about 80-120 centimeters in length and 8-20 centimeters in height, but the weight differs between the men and women. There are no brakes on the sled; each racer uses their body weight to steer, and the max speed reached is about 135 kilometers per hour. The goal of the event is to complete the course in the shortest amount of time possible. In the skeleton event, the United Kingdom has won the most medals ever in this event, with the United States close behind.  

BEIJING, CHINA – FEBRUARY 12: Zhao Dan of Team China slides during the Women’s Skeleton heat 3 on day eight of Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games at National Sliding Centre on February 12, 2022 in Beijing, China. (Photo by He Penglei/China News Service via Getty Images) (Photo by China News Service via Getty Ima)

Conversely, the biathlon is a completely different discipline, involving a combination of both marksmanship and cross country skiing.  Originating in Scandinavia as a hunting method, the modern version has been in the Winter Olympics since 1960. The race involves a cross-country skiing competition of a certain distance and stopping at certain points to shoot a target with a 0.22 caliber rifle. There are five different types of races with a men and women race for each: the sprint, individual, pursuit, mass start, and relay (which also includes a mixed-gender version). There are two different types of shooting positions, the prone (where the shooter lies down) and the standing.  Germany has won the most medals in this event, with Norway coming in second, and Russia in third.  

ZHANGJIAKOU, CHINA – FEBRUARY 13: Kristina Reztsova of Russian Olympic Committee in action competes during the women´s biathlon pursuit during the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics at National Biathlon Centre on February 13, 2022 in Zhangjiakou, China. (Photo by Tom Weller/VOIGT/DeFodi Images via Getty Images) (Photo by DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

Arguably the least watched sport in the Winter Olympics, the Nordic combined, is a hybrid of the ski jump and cross country skiing. Each athlete first completes one ski jump where they are judged based on distance and style, and this determines their starting position in the cross-country ski race.  Norway carries the most medals won in this event, with Austria in second, and Germany in third. 

Although not as known to the general public, these three sports are still displays of immense skill and excitement. To spread more knowledge about these events and others in the Winter Olympic Games, Reuters made a useful infographic that describes each sport.

The 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing saw Norway win the most gold medals out of all the countries, which most would agree would not be the case in the Summer event. The United States won a total of 25 medals across the sports of alpine skiing, bobsleigh, cross country skiing, figure skating, freestyle skiing, ice hockey, snowboarding, and speed skating.  Japan on the other hand, won medals in curling, figure skating, freestyle skiing, the Nordic combined, ski jumping, snowboarding, and speed skating, for a total of 18 medals.

Some highlights for both countries were Jessie Diggins’ performance in cross country skiing for the United States, and Japan’s Kobayashi Ryoyu’s two medals in the ski jump. Diggins, who competed in the women’s 30km mass start free, came down with food poisoning thirty hours before her race, but raced regardless. She stated that she thought she “was going to die at the finish line” from pure exhaustion. It was indeed a gutsy performance to claim her third career medal.

Kobayashi Ryoyu, the 25-year-old Iwate Prefecture native, claimed gold in the men’s normal hill individual and silver in the large hill individual for the ski jump. Also for Japan, the women’s curling team had their best ever performance earning a silver medal, and Takagi Miho won three individual medals in women’s speed skating (one gold and two silver).  

ZHANGJIAKOU, CHINA – FEBRUARY 06: Gold Medalist Ryoyu Kobayashi of Team Japan celebrates after winning Gold with team mates during Men’s Normal Hill Individual Final Round at National Ski Jumping Centre on February 06, 2022 in Zhangjiakou, China. (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images) (Photo by Getty Images)

Other notable medal-winning performances for the United States team were Nathan Chen winning gold in figure skating (men’s single skating) and Chloe Kim winning gold in women’s snowboard halfpipe. 

Given the range of events and inspiring stories, this year’s Winter Olympics was an exhilarating one. The uniqueness of each event and the athletes competing were just as special as those in the Summer Olympics. Going forward, winter-sport Olympians should get the recognition they deserve for the countless hours they spend honing their craft. Although it’s another four years away, from my perspective, the 2026 Milano Cortina Winter Olympic Games couldn’t come any sooner.