The 5 most important storylines of the Beijing Olympics

·6 min read
The 5 most important storylines of the Beijing Olympics

After four dreary years, we’ve finally arrived at the Beijing Olympics, where Canada should be a superpower on the global stage.

Canada is expected to be near the top of the overall medal standings in what should be a high-mark for sports in the country more broadly.

We’ve all been waiting for the Winter Olympics, so no need for further preamble. Here are the best storylines of the Beijing Olympics, Canadian or otherwise.

Canada-U.S. women’s hockey rivalry is at the forefront

Canada-United States is the best current rivalry in hockey without much opposition, and it really should be a two-team race for gold in women’s hockey this winter. Both Canada and the U.S. are far ahead of their competition, especially after Finland’s all-world goaltender Noora Raty was omitted from the tournament for unspecified reasons.

The U.S. defeated Canada 3-2 in a shootout during the 2018 gold-medal game and Canada will certainly be looking for revenge throughout the competition. But it won’t be easy. United States captain Kendall Coyne Schofield, Hilary Knight, Amanda Kessel, Brianna Decker and Maddie Rooney are among several returnees for the defending champions, and it doesn’t look like they’re going to miss a beat.

Canada will be led by the best player in the game, Marie-Philip Poulin, who will have support from mainstays Brianne Jenner, Sarah Nurse and Natalie Spooner among others. It’s a formidable squad. But the team may be done in by Hockey Canada’s hubris, omitting Mikyla Grant-Mentis for no reason, despite winning the 2021 Premier Hockey Federation (PHF) MVP award. If Canada loses to the United States, Grant-Mentis' omission should be magnified as a colossal mistake by the sport’s national governing body.

USA's Hilary Knight (L) and Canada's Marie-Philip Poulin argue in the women's gold medal game during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics. (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
USA's Hilary Knight (L) and Canada's Marie-Philip Poulin argue in the women's gold medal game during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics. (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

This is no victory lap for Charles Hamelin

Hamelin is entering his fifth — yes, you read that correctly — and final Olympic Games for Canada. This isn’t a mere celebration of his decorated career, though. The 37-year-old short track speed skater could walk away with a few more medals to add to his trophy case, particularly in the 1500m, where he is the world’s reigning champion.

At the risk of being reductionist, Canadian speed skating has been defined by Hamelin’s brilliance for the past decade, and he will leave a sizeable void when he hangs up his skates following the Beijing Olympics. There are few things people love more than an athlete retiring at the top of their game, and Hamelin could be in contention to raise Canada’s flag at the closing ceremonies with another standout set of performances this winter.

Chloe Kim is ready to reclaim the halfpipe throne after hiatus

Chloe Kim was the unquestionable breakout star of the Pyeongchang Olympics and appeared destined to be one of the faces of American sports for the foreseeable future.

But then she took a break.

Kim recently told TIME Magazine in a cover story that she threw her 2018 gold medal into a trash can. Thrust into the spotlight, Kim was burnt out by not being allowed to enjoy a sandwich from her favourite restaurant in peace and was bothered further by the uptick in racism toward Asian-Americans, especially during the pandemic.

“It makes you angry. I just wanted a day where I was left alone," Kim said. "And it's impossible. And I appreciate that everyone loves and supports me, but I just wish people could understand what I was going through up to that point."

After a two-year hiatus from the halfpipe, Kim returns to Beijing as the presumptive favourite. She is arguably the most famous active snowboarder on the planet, regardless of event.

As for Kim’s own projections?

“I think people who are tuning into the Beijing Olympics should expect nothing from me. Because I’m just gonna be chillin, I’m gonna snowboard. If you expect something crazy, that’s fine because I hope it’ll be crazy but just don’t have too many expectations. Let me vibe. I’m just trying to chill. No, I’m just kidding. You should expect a lot out of me. I’m gonna go off.”

Words to live by.

Kaillie Humphries suits up for the U.S. after winning consecutive golds for Canada

Kaillie Humphries won consecutive gold medals for Canada in 2010 and 2014 with Heather Moyse in two-woman bobsleigh. Humphries was unquestionably one of Canada’s greatest athletes and was rewarded with the Lou Marsh Trophy in 2014 to punctuate this notion.

Humphries is now suiting up for the United States and her reasons aren’t trivial. In 2018, Humphries filed harassment complaints against Bobsleigh Canada head coach Todd Hays, high performance director Chris Le Bihan and president Sarah Storey. She then filed a lawsuit in 2019 against Bobsleigh Canada for blocking her release. Humphries was granted her release in September 2019 and began competing for the United States.

Humphries became a naturalized U.S. citizen in December, rendering her eligible to compete for her new country during the Olympics.

Is she still the best bobsledder in the world? We’ll find out shortly. But after a tenuous process played out against her former country, Humphries will certainly want to stick it to Bobsleigh Canada and the Canadian Olympic Committee.

Kaillie Humphries is representing the United States at the Beijing Olympics
Kaillie Humphries is representing the United States at the Beijing Olympics. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images for Team USA)

How will COVID-19 affect the competition and the influx of traffic?

As sports journalists, we often ignore our obligations to the social contract, which implies that we should be protesting a multi-week international sports competition during a pandemic that has few provisions for public safety. Alas, the show is going on, paychecks need to be collected, and the ills of nationalism will be muted temporarily.

Spectators are being admitted to the games by invite only, a measure to counteract the rise of the Omicron variant in Beijing. The spirit of international competition will be subdued as a result, with the fan experience carved in as an essential component of the Olympics itself. It does seem like a smart measure on the surface, but it’s also a half-measure to combat the inevitable rising counts of COVID-19 amid a sporting event that relies on global tourism to sustain the outlandish costs of new facilities.

Several countries have launched diplomatic boycotts against the Beijing Olympics, citing various human rights issues. We won’t go into all of them here, namely because the boycott itself doesn’t prohibit athletes from participating unless it’s a full boycott. Justin Trudeau launched a boycott in December and it was roundly ignored as the Canadian Olympic Committee fully committed to sending its athletes overseas.

I’m not going to pretend to be an epidemiologist here but so much of the global public health response has been reactionary and there haven’t been safe measures applied to host a global sports tournament. We’ll have to keep our fingers crossed and hope that athletes and other attendees aren’t infected during the duration of the Olympiad.

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