The first events of the 2022 Winter Olympics begin in just a couple weeks, and expect coverage to be streaming constantly on network and cable television throughout the event. The Games have always meant competition at the highest level, but there is more with the Olympics: the pageantry and the mingling of athletes creates an atmosphere like no other sporting event. For most who have been involved over the years, the experience is unforgettable.
This year will be different.
COVID has changed everything.
Those who will be going to Beijing to compete, or to be a part of the competition universe, won’t be mingling, won’t be watching other athletes and sports in person, won’t be wandering around the venues, and won’t be sharing the experience with family and friends who traditionally have come to watch and cheer.
The Games, this time will be held in somewhat of a “bubble,” and are a competition framed by a quarantine, and the efforts of the host country and participants to hold an event in spite of the virus.
Four people with regional ties heading to Beijing shared their thoughts recently on what they expect at this year’s Olympics:
— Jim Carr, from Carr Hughes Productions in Saratoga Springs, will be producing the figure skating coverage for NBC. This will be his 17th Olympics.
— Mark Grimmette, a five-time Olympian and two-time Olympic medalist, is the sports program director for the Lake Placid-based U.S. Luge Federation. He has been at the Winter Games every year since 1994, and was the U.S. flag bearer at the opening ceremonies in 2010.
— Peggy Shinn, author of “World Class,” the book on the 2018 gold medal-winning U.S. women’s cross country team and journalist from Rutland, Vermont, will be reporting on the sliding sports for the U.S. Olympic Committee. This is her seventh Olympics.
— Sarah Simson, from Niskayuna, is the United States’ choice for the nine-member panel judging the moguls and aerials ski events. A veteran World Cup official, this is her first Olympics.
Carr and Shinn will be headed to China from Los Angeles. Like all who are going to the Games, there is rigorous pre-departure testing and, no matter what the ultimate destination, everyone enters the country through Beijing where there is further testing in the airport. Transportation to their quarters in China is pre-arranged; no one gets to wander. Once at your assigned location, it is strictly hotel-to-competition-venue-to hotel for the duration of the Games.
Both Carr and Shinn were at the Games last summer in Tokyo, where there were similar rules and restrictions. Shinn believes getting to Beijing may actually be easier.
“Tokyo required 14-day travel travel plans to be submitted a month in advance. Travel was stressful and getting stuck for hours in the airport common,” Shinn said.
PEGGY SHINN & JIM CARR
In China, Shinn will be based in Yanqing, one of three main competition centers for the Games, located about 45 miles northwest of Beijing. Each day there she expects to begin with a morning throat swab.
At least the food promises to be better this time, she believes. In Tokyo, boxed meals were delivered to the room. In China, there are restaurants in the hotel and at the event venues.
Still, restrictions apply.
“You must eat at these approved places,” Shinn said. “Eating at your workstation in the press centers is not allowed.”
Carr will be spared some of the travel requirements for his assignment. He will be in Beijing where the figure skating events will be held. While he will be producing one of the most-watched competitions in the Games, he doesn’t see his schedule as much different than last summer in Tokyo.
“I go from my room to the broadcast center then back to my room,” Carr said. “I wear a mask everywhere.”
After 16 previous Olympics and producing a lot more championship events, he is accepting of the circumstances.
“You are quarantined for two weeks,” Carr said. “You are here to do a job — and, otherwise, you just lay low.”
In December, Sarah Simson got an Olympic preview when she and her fellow judges spent a week in Finland and a week in Sweden judging World Cup events. She became accustomed to daily testing.
“Over the course of that trip,” Simson said, “I was tested 25 times.”
The judging panel will travel the 100 miles from Beijing to the freestyle competition center in Zhangjiakou, stay in the same hotel, and travel to and from the competition together.
“The good news is that we have known one another for years and we are all in the same boat,” Simson said.
Simson does not expect to be able to travel and see other events this time, a far cry from when she accompanied her husband Jay to Nagano, Japan in 1998 when he was the chief judge for the freestyle events. There, she could wander freely.
“I’m bringing a lot of books and games with me,” Simson said.
Of Carr, Grimmette, Shinn and Simson, only Grimmette has been to his Olympic venue already.
He was there in November when the luge team was part of a test competition to try out the new track in Yanqing.
“It is a fantastic venue,” he said.
Once there, the 10-person luge team won’t have far to travel to get to the competition. The team’s quarters are adjacent to the track. Each morning, all of the athletes and officials will be tested before breakfast. Like at all the venues, a positive test and you’re out. Restrictions are tight. There will be no spectators at the run, and that includes families of the competitors who have been shut out from attending the Games.
“We’ve been living under these rules for the past year-and-a-half so it is not unexpected,” said Grimette. “Here, we will eat in a common cafeteria. It is buffet-style and we wear plastic gloves when getting our food. There are dividers between every seat.
“We travel directly between our quarters and the track, wearing masks at all times and maintaining six-foot separation.”
Luge is one of the first events of the games, preceding bobsled and skeleton, which each use the same track. Because of that, the competition will be finished by the first weekend.
“We’ll leave China after our races are over” said Grimmette, noting there will be no attending the closing ceremonies for his athletes.
This will be a Winter Olympics like no other. The social aspect of the Games will be mostly missing and there are rules in place to restrict just about all celebrations.
Still, the best winter sports athletes in the world will be competing, and there will be drama and excitement throughout the two weeks.
COVID can’t stop that.
VONN TO WEST
The West Mountain racing program, which has been growing by leaps and bounds in recent years, has taken another big step forward with the hiring of Thomas Vonn as Alpine FIS and Program Technical director, effective immediately.
Vonn, who finished ninth in giant slalom at the 2002 Winter Olympics, first made his mark by coaching former wife and Olympic champion Lindsay Vonn who became the most successful women’s competitor ever in World Cup racing.
Most recently, Thomas Vonn has been a coach at the Northwood School and with the NYSEF program in Lake Placid.
UNIVERSITY GAMES JUST A YEAR AWAY
While the Olympics that begin in two weeks dominate the winter sports scene, the start of the World University Games are now just a year away.
The Swiss-based University Games are the largest winter sports competition in the World outside the Olympics with more than 2,500 athletes, coaches and officials from 50 countries expected in Lake Placid for 86 events in 12 sports next January.
Most events will be held at the Olympic venues, but snowboard and freestyle skiing are scheduled for Gore Mountain in North Creek, and there will be hockey competition in Potsdam and Canton.
COUNCIL RACES CANCELED
The New York Capital District Ski Council races scheduled for last Saturday at West Mountain were canceled.
The annual inter-club competition, which dates back to the 1950s, was called off when just 12 people signed up to race.
Organizers indicate there are no other races scheduled this season.
Contact Phil Johnson at [email protected]
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