Beijing Olympics controversies: Recapping two of the most dramatic weeks in sports history

Controversy was as present as sport itself in the Beijing Winter Olympics. (Getty)
Controversy was as present as sport itself in the Beijing Winter Olympics. (Getty)

Eat your heart out, Shonda Rhimes.

Sure, it was largely expected that the 2022 Beijing Olympics would come with controversy. Latent political disputes in Russia and outrage over China's record of human-rights abuse — which caused several diplomatic boycotts, including from Canada and the USA — eclipsed the field of play before the Games even started. COVID-19 and the lack of NHLers didn't help make it any more serene, either.

But no one could have anticipated the amount of drama that unfolded over the past two weeks.

Questionable reviews, doping scandals and stripped medals dominated the conversation in every corner of the Games.

So with the closing ceremonies in the books, here's a timeline of the major controversies from this year's Winter Olympics.

Feb. 2

Belgian athlete's tearful message from isolation

Skeleton racer Kim Meylemans posted a heartbreaking video on Instagram, asking the International Olympic Committee to free her from one of Beijing's COVID isolation facilities.

Meylemans tested positive upon arriving in China and, instead of being taken to the Athletes' Village isolation centre, ended up in a second location — where she was told she would have to stay for 14 days.

The Belgian delegation quickly stepped in and arranged her move to the Village on Feb. 3.

Feb. 4

Putin "takes a nap" during Ukraine's entrance at Opening Ceremony

With the world on alert over the threat of Russian invasion in the Ukraine, Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, was spotted with his eyes closed as Ukrainians marched into the Bird's Nest in Beijing.

Strange, to say the least.

Chinese guard drags Dutch reporter away

A reporter from the Netherlands was accosted and dragged away mid-broadcast from the Opening Ceremonies.

“We are now being pulled out of here,” Sjoerd den Daas said, via a translation from Insider. “We have just been expelled from another area, so I'm afraid we'll have to come back to you later.”

The telecast then cut back to the studio, much to the shock of the NOS Nieuws anchor.

Feb. 6

Concerns raised about quarantine hotels

Several athletes blasted the conditions in Beijing's quarantine hotels early on, citing lack of training equipment, no internet and even terrible food.

The IOC later announced an intervention, but for many Olympians the damage was already done.

China takes action after figure skater is bullied

Chinese censors appeared to step in after US-born Chinese figure skater Zhu Yi fell during her singles short-program performance in the team event.

On Weibo — a Twitter equivalent in China — the hashtag #ZhuYiFellOver was deactivated after racking up 230 million views and giving a platform for thousands of online trolls to mercilessly attack the 19-year-old.

Canadian women mask up vs. Russia

After an hour-long delay due to Russia's failure to submit COVID testing results on time, Team Canada and the ROC faced off with their masks on in women's hockey.

Citing "safety and security concerns," the Canadians decided not to return once it was clear that Russia's chief medical officer hadn't handed over accurate results from the latest round of testing.

The worry turned out to be very warranted. Two days after Canada's 6-1 win, a Russian player indeed tested positive for COVID-19.

Canadian-born Chinese Olympian barred from speaking English in interviews

Team China women's hockey goalie Zhou Jiaying, who also goes by Kimberly Newell, answered several questions in Mandarin during a press conference. But when a reporter asked if she could switch to English — a language in which she is fluent — an interpreter jumped in.

“She’s not allowed to speak English,” said the interpreter. "I'll try to answer for her."

IOC meets with Peng Shuai

After disappearing for weeks following her allegations of sexual abuse against a high-ranked Chinese official, Peng Shuai met with IOC president Thomas Bach.

No photos or hard details were provided, which raised more questions than ever before about the tennis player's well-being. Peng later gave an interview in which she stated that the sex-assault allegations were "a huge misunderstanding," and was spotted at the free ski competition on Feb. 8.

Valid concerns persist over Peng's well-being.

Feb. 7

Outfit issues cause disqualifications in ski jump

Five skiers were disqualified due to baggy outfits in mixed team ski jump, an event that made its debut in Beijing this year.

Athletes from Austria, Japan, Norway and Germany, all of whom are women, were judged to have worn loose-fitting attire that allegedly gives jumpers an advantage as they soar through the air.

Feb. 5-8

China's pair of penalty-aided speed-skating golds

The host country's first pair of gold medals were made possible by lengthy video reviews and opponent disqualifications. China's mixed-relay team only made the final — and later won gold — after Team USA and the Russian Olympic Committee were disqualified for obstruction.

Ren Ziwei captured China's second gold in the men's 1,000m despite crossing the finish line in second place. Another video review knocked Hungary's Liu Shaolin Sandor off the podium entirely.

The decisions were interpreted by some as "favouritism," with the South Korean team going as far as announcing an appeal with the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Feb. 9

Kamila Valieva tests positive for banned substance

Perhaps the most prominent controversy of these Games, the Valieva saga started with a cryptic "legal issue" that prevented a medal ceremony from happening in the team figure skating event, in which Russia won gold.

A day later, it was reported that the 15-year-old Valieva had tested positive for trimetazidine, a heart drug used to prevent angina and which also acts as an oxygen booster. The substance is banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

It was announced that Valieva was suspended pending a hearing, as she quickly went from superstar to polarizing figure.

Feb. 10

Halfpipe judges 'just grenaded all their credibility'

After Japan's Ayumu Hirano received an arguably low score for a near-flawless snowboard halfpipe run, rage hit beyond athletes and fans.

NBC’s Todd Richards called the judges' decision "a travesty," adding that "they just grenaded all their credibility."

Hirano went on to win gold anyway, but went on the record two days later demanding changes to officiating in the sport.

Feb. 11

McMorris begrudges fellow Canadian's gold

The snowboarding drama continued with slopestyle bronze-medal winner Mark McMorris telling CBC that he "had the run of the day" in an event won by fellow Canadian Max Parrot.

"Knowing that I kind of had the run of the day and one of the best rounds of my life and the whole industry knows what happened — pretty, pretty crazy," said McMorris.

Parrot later admitted that the judges failed to notice a missed a grab that may have shaped things differently in the competition. According to the champ, McMorris "apologized for his non-sportsmanship."

Ukrainian athlete's sign sparks IOC reminder

Vladyslav Heraskevych challenged the Olympic rules on political demonstrations, lifting a sign that read "No War in Ukraine" after one of his runs in the skeleton competition.

The IOC later issued a statement saying it had reached out to Heraskevych to remind him that “the field of play and podium is not the place for any kind of statement.”

“When that case occurred the night before last we spoke to the team and athlete and explained the situation to him,” IOC spokesperson Mark Adams said. “In his final run he ran without that. He understood.”

Canadian ice maker defends himself from 'corruption' allegation

Swedish speed skater Nils van der Poel made waves more than once in Beijing.

After capturing gold in the men's 5,000m, van der Poel made serious accusations of "corruption" against the Dutch team and Mark Messer, the event's ice maker. van der Poel's rather confusing allegations state that officials from the Netherlands try to influence ice makers to set up conditions that benefit their athletes.

Messier categorically shut down any notion of outside influence.

"It's my reputation on the line ... I'm very upset with this story and the way it's developed," the six-time Olympic ice maker said.

Canadian speed skater blasts Olympic schedule

Ted-Jan Bloemen felt at a disadvantage due to the way the speed-skating schedule was organized in Beijing.

A medal favourite and former Olympic champ, Bloemen was beyond frustrated about having to race conservatively in this year's men's 10,000-metre event in order to save energy for the team pursuits.

“I don't know who made the schedule, but it's ridiculous,” said Bloemen. “You can't recover in two days from digging really deep on a 10k. The countries that don't have skaters in the 10k have a huge advantage in the team pursuit.”

Eileen Gu causes fury with VPN comment

“Anyone can download a VPN, it’s literally free on the App Store."

That was the response given by Eileen Gu — U.S.-born but competing for China — when asked about why she was receiving "special treatment" as a Chinese citizen able to use Instagram and other banned social media in the country.

One problem: VPNs are illegal in China.

Feb. 12

China orders athlete to delete pictures of Olympic Village flood

In another case of alleged Chinese censorship, a Finnish skier claimed she was ordered to delete images from social media that showed water coming out of light fixtures in the Athletes' Village.

Katri Lylynpera posted photos of the mess and later of Olympic officials coming in to clean it. She later also posted the screenshot of an alleged message demanding her posts be taken down.

Snowfalls cause problems for snow events

The Beijing Games used artificial snow for its competitions, which meant that when real snow finally came, it turned into a problem.

Several skiing events had to be delayed or postponed due to inclement weather. And when athletes did take the field, the conditions were bad enough to cause bad falls and scary collisions.

Feb. 14

Valieva wins appeal, allowed to compete in women's event

As a "protected person" due to her age, Valieva was allowed to compete in the women's individual figure-skating event by a panel of the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

"The Panel considered fundamental principles of fairness, proportionality, irreparable harm and the relative balance of interests," the ruling stated. "... in particular, the Panel considered that preventing the Athlete from competing at the Olympic Games would cause her irreparable harm."

Outrage throughout the sports world followed the decision. The concept of "irreparable harm" would also come back to haunt the Olympic community.

IOC announces no medal ceremonies involving Valieva

Despite allowing her to compete, the IOC announced that the Beijing Games wouldn't hold a team figure skating medal ceremony (in which the ROC won gold) or any other podium celebrations involving Valieva.

Reinstated in a provisional manner, Valieva's qualification for the women's final also meant that 25 instead of 24 skaters would be admitted into the medal round.

Positive drug test blamed on grandpa's medicine

As the day unfolded and more information on the CAS hearing emerged, a bizarre explanation was given as to how a banned angina-treating drug entered Valieva's system.

Her lawyers said the athlete’s failed doping test was due to contamination from medication prescribed to her grandfather.

The argument was met with skepticism from pundits and peers.

Feb. 15

Valieva shines, but leaves ice in tears

One of the many gut-wrenching moments involving Valieva came during the short program.

The teenager earned the top score of the day despite stumbling on her opening triple axel, but could barely hold it together long enough to skate off the rink — breaking down into tears as she awaited her results.

Eileen Gu makes bank

Earning three medals in freestyle skiing for China has cemented Gu's place as an Olympic superstar. The 18-year-old angered some Americans when she decided to compete for the home country despite being born in the USA.

Reports of over $40 million made in sponsorships since the start of last year didn't make the 18-year-old's move any more justifiable to the Western Hemisphere.

Feb. 16

Russian skater's candid celebration

There's nothing like throwing up the double birds after a big win at the Olympics.

And that's exactly what Russian speed skater Daniil Aldoshkin did after beating the USA in the the team pursuit semifinals.

“I threw up my hands, I have the first medal, the first Olympics,” Aldoshkin said. “I didn’t mean anything like that. I’m sorry if this offended anyone.”

Feb. 17

Who's the f—ing judge?

You know it's a bad call when even your opponents are shaking their heads.

Swiss skier Fanny Smith was denied a spot in the women's cross podium after a lengthy review penalized her for obstruction. Germany's Daniela Maier was allowed bronze instead.

"Who's the f—ing judge?" Smith asked an official on camera after the decision was made and confusion turned into frustration.

Maier was just as dumbstruck as Smith was.

Valieva succumbs to pressure

After days of off-ice drama, Valieva took the ice for the last time in the Beijing Games. And it became clear just how affected she was by her ordeal.

Valieva fell twice in a devastating four-minute program that knocked her out of medal contention in the women's event and fuelled questions about the motivations of the grown-ups around her. The CAS's mention of "irreparable harm" came back into play here, with many positing that allowing a 15-year-old girl to take the ice under frail mental conditions turned out to be the worst possible outcome for her well-being.

Bach condemns Valieva's coaches

After ROC coach Eteri Tutberidze was caught berating Valieva in the aftermath of her performance, the IOC president issued a rare condemnation of Russia, claiming he was "very disturbed" by the coldness and "chilling atmosphere" of Valieva's entourage toward the athlete.

Feb. 18

Speed skating champ says it was 'irresponsible' to hold Games in China

After two gold medals, van der Poel returned to Sweden and wasted no time condemning the decision to hold the Olympic Games in Beijing due to China's record of disrespecting human rights — specifically toward Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

“I think it is extremely irresponsible to give (the Games) to a country that violates human rights as blatantly as the Chinese regime is doing.”

'I will never go out on the ice again'

Yet another argument for an Olympic age limit presented itself in the form of Russian figure skater Alexandra Trusova.

The 17-year-old won silver in the women's individual event, losing to compatriot Anna Shcherbakova despite an unprecedented five-quad routine.

“Everyone has a gold medal, everyone, but not me,” Trusova said, per The Guardian. “I hate skating. I hate it. I hate this sport. I will never go out on the ice again! Never! I hate! It’s impossible, it’s impossible! You can not do it this way.”

Amid the Valieva furore, Shcherbakova also stated that she felt "emptiness" after her gold-medal finish.

Very little joy in the Winter Games' staple event.

UN ambassador to Gu: 'You're either American or Chinese'

A former US ambassador to the United Nations emerged as one of Gu's biggest critics during the Games.

Nikki Haley accused the 18-year-old of "standing for human-rights abuses" in a scathing interview with RealClearPolitics.

“In terms of the citizenship, look, China or the U.S.? You have got to pick a side. Period,” Haley said. "You’ve got to pick a side, because you're either American or you're Chinese, and they are two very different countries.”

Feb. 19

Kremlin defends coach's 'harshness'

“The harshness of a coach in high-level sport is key for their athletes to achieve victories,” said Russian government spokesperson Dmitry Peskov after Bach called out Valieva's coach for her berating of the teenager.

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