As all observers of the Olympic movement know, the success of the Games is not only due to the quality of the venues, the organisational prowess and the enthusiasm of the public. The performance of the host country also enters the debate. The medals drive up the ratings. The rest follows.
With three days to go before the opening of the Beijing Games, forecasts put Norway in first place in the medal table. Germany, Russia, Canada and the United States could also be riding high.
China? On paper, it won’t carry much weight. In its latest forecast, drawn up one month before the opening, the American institute Gracenote promises 11 places on the podium, including six Olympic titles. Correct. And even better, historic. But it will take more to turn the Beijing Games into a national pride.
The Chinese sports authorities have made no secret of the fact: in the coming weeks, the Olympic delegation is aiming for the best collective performance in its history at the Winter Games. Better still, it aims to reconcile progress and ethics. In other words, to win a record number of medals, while staying away from doping cases.
In theory, this is obvious. But in reality, the picture is not always so bright. At the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia crushed the competition by winning 33 medals, including 13 gold. It was the leader in the final ranking of nations. But the revelation of a large-scale doping scandal, organised by the state itself, has dented its record. The Russians lost four medals, including two gold. Above all, the affair led the Russian Olympic movement to an exclusion from which it has still not emerged.
At the Beijing 2022 Games, China has no interest in taking first place. It is not even considering a place on the podium. But it wants to avoid raising doubts in the rest of the world by the quality of its results.
“The delegation is eyeing the best Winter Games performance while ensuring no doping cases,” Ni Huizhong, secretary general of the Chinese Winter Olympic Delegation, told the official Xinhua news agency. Our athletes will display their sportsmanship and also abide by all the pandemic control rules.”
On paper, the mission entrusted to the Chinese athletes is a delicate one. At the 2018 PyeongChang Games, China was present in 12 disciplines and 53 events. It won one gold, six silver and two bronze medals. It quietly slipped to 16th place in the nations’ ranking.
For the Beijing Games, its status as host country strengthens its chances. Chinese athletes are competing in 104 of the 109 events on the programme. This in itself is a first success, as China had never participated in a third of the Olympic events when the IOC awarded the 2022 Winter Games to Beijing.
According to the Chinese sports authorities’ tally, only Russia (ROC), the United States and the Czech Republic are competing in the 15 disciplines on the programme in addition to China.
The Chinese delegation will consist of 176 athletes, including 87 women. Average age: 25.2 years. No fewer than 131 competitors will be making their Olympic debut.
A cruel lack of experience, therefore. But China broke its piggy bank to compensate. In total, 19 of the 23 teams are coached by a foreign coach. At the top of the list is biathlon legend Ole Einar Bjoerndalen from Norway and Peja Lindholm from Sweden, three-time world champion in curling.
Doping? Not an issue, according to Ni Huizhong. Each of our teams has an anti-doping commissioner,” says the Chinese official. Our anti-doping expert group has 189 people.”
Since March 2018, athletes on the Olympic team have reportedly undergone over 8,000 doping tests. The most tested of the delegation would have taken a respectable 54. Impressive. But difficult to verify.