Beijing 2022: President Xi's fashion statement and other geopolitical messages
The biggest-ever winter sports extravaganza in China was a sporting spectacle, but it highlighted more than just that - like President Xi Jinping's Rs 1 lakh jacket at the Winter Olympics opening ceremony, out of stock since, which doubled up as a diplomatic tool.
The ice of indoors in Beijing and the snow across the Zhangjiakou mountains haven't melted fully yet as the 2022 Beijing Winter Paralympics is getting underway this evening. But the recently concluded 2022 Winter Olympics Games in the Chinese capital have left behind many momentous and lasting memories. Of course, the biggest ever winter sports extravaganza was a sporting spectacle and geopolitical gallantry. But it has highlighted more than that.
Cobalt blue over the Bird's Nest - Xi Jinping's jacket goes out of stock
The opening ceremony was as amazeballs as expected. But more than celebrated Chinese director Zhang Yimou's scripting sorcery and the archetypal Chinese high-tech pyrotechnics wizardry showcasing the Tianxia theme of "shared future," a bird, but not Phoenix, rose from the ashes at the Bird's Nest.
The 2022 Winter Olympics was arguably the greatest of all blue riband and big-ticket events since President Xi Jinping took over as the President, and more importantly, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC), and unleashed his "Chinese Dream." But more than the diplomatic dichotomy between a global sporting event and geopolitical galvanization in the presence of some world leaders at the feebly boycott-marred opening ceremony, President Xi's cobalt blue parka hogged the limelight among the 1.4 billion inhabitants of the wannabe winter superpower.
Surprisingly, the heavy-duty and puffy parka with which President Xi made more than just a fashion statement to set the puck zipping was manufactured by a high-performance outerwear clothing brand from Canada, a country that had a bitter diplomatic scrimmage with China over high-flying Huawei heiress Meng Wanzhou in the last few years and also accused the Olympic hosts of cyber-surveillance on the participating athletes and officials through the official Games app just a few weeks before the Games got underway.
If the Chinese economic and geopolitical might have brought back Meng from the Great White North last year, they also remarkably relaxed their ever-rigid naturalization process to accommodate 11 Canadian-born hockey players (alongside three from the US and one Russian) to their Olympic roster. But the most popular import from Canada to Beijing 2022 was President Xi's Arc'teryx parka.
Christened after the Jurassic Age bird with its fossil-inspired logo and a slightly shortened name, Arc'teryx was founded in North Vancouver as Rock Solid but got its current name before surviving a slew of liquidations through multiple ownership changes. Eventually, China's largest sports equipment manufacturing giant, Anta, bought the company to save it from extinction like the eponymous bird-like dinosaurs.
But President Xi's arrival in the Arc'teryx Thorsen parka with a cool price tag of over one lakh rupee (RMB9000 or $1400) sent it completely flying off the store shelves and the shopping carts of China's e-commerce giants like hot cakes in no time during the opening ceremony.
Gu goes for golden glory
If the heavily insulated cobalt moon parka by the extreme weather apparel makers from Canada metaphorically lit the Winter Olympics cauldron for the country of 1.4 billion people, an import from across the 49th parallel brought unparalleled glory to the erstwhile also-rans, setting the uncharacteristically thick and exceptionally white Beijing snow on fire.
18-year-old U.S passport holder Eileen Gu was emphatically emboldened by the Chinese authorities to breach the impregnable Great Wall for immigrants and become Gu Ailing in a country that strictly prohibits dual citizenship. But even before winning any medal in her mother's birthplace, the svelte sensation went viral on Chinese social media after being caught on camera munching the traditional Chinese snack, Jiucai Hezi, a pan-fried dumpling filled with chives and vermicelli noodles, for lunch while waiting for her score in the freeski slopestyle qualifying.
The prodigious skier, arguably the most popular import from the USA since China got into the trade war with the Trump administration from January 2018 onwards, not only kept herself fueled but, subsequently, Gu also nibbled three medals on the podium, fulfilling the host country's insatiable appetite for Winter Olympics glory in their own backyard.
The San Francisco-born sportsperson, who was until 2019 a meiguoren (An American in Chinese) or simply a laowai (foreigner) in local slang in China, became the "Snow White" of the slopes. The IMG model-cum-Olympian's double gold medals in big air and halfpipe and silver in slopestyle have made her the most successful Chinese Winter Olympian as well as the most popular celebutante of the Beijing 2022.
An unfinished Russian doping saga
If freestyle skier Gu soared above the pipe higher than any of her rivals, another teenager, Kamila Valieva from Russia, fell into the deep dungeon of doping. Despite President Vladimir Putin's diplomatically significant presence at the Bird's Nest during the opening ceremony amid the Ukraine-Russia tension, the Russian athletes had to take part in Beijing without their country's flag, anthem and name due to their four-year-long ban following widespread doping violations and a state-sanctioned cover-up.
However, the contingent from Russia, participating under the Russian Olympic Committee, or ROC, had to suffer a fresh doping blow during the competition after their poster girl Valieva was found failing a pre-Games dope test. Even though the Russian won the skating team gold at the Beijing 2022 before the news of her delayed December 2021 dope test result was broken, the medals were unprecedently not awarded for the first time in the history of the Games, but quite controversially, the multiple world record-holder skater was allowed to participate in her pet event of women's singles.
Despite blaming a mix-up with her granddad's medicine and getting a temporary immunity for her minor status during the untoward incident, the Russian teenager had several frustrating falls on the ice during the event's finals, where she was the hot favourite to win the gold. She eventually finished fourth but kept the team medal awarding ceremony unfinished.
Stunned Shiffrin vows to return
Valieva might have fallen from grace, but another hot favourite face of the Winter Olympics and two-time gold medallist Mikaela Shiffrin made a rather graceful exit after drawing blank in each of the six events she took part in Beijing. In fact, the sylphlike Alpine skier's failure had a substantially higher impact at the Games and ruffled more feathers than her country's diplomatic boycott.
Even after quite uncharacteristically registering three Did Not Finishes (DNF) in the giant slalom, slalom and combined, Shiffrin valiantly posted the barrage of abuses she received on social media and emotionally wrote on Instagram that she would "keep coming back" and "can win again."
But her ice hockey compatriots couldn't make a comeback during their nail-biting 3-2 penalty shootout defeat to Slovakia at the quarter-final stage. The American side, sans the NHL players following their pullout from the Games, couldn't repeat a Miracle on Ice during their last-gasp loss. Incidentally, the US meltdowns in key events and at crucial stages of the Games also enabled China to go one up on the Americans as the host country eventually surpassed their bitter geopolitical rivals with their record gold medal haul of 9 against 8 won by the US.
Frozen phallus to fantastic finish
Meanwhile, first-time Olympian from Finland's Remi Lindholm wasn't frozen in time during the grueling men's 50km mass start cross country skiing race under inclement and harsh weather conditions but was left with a frozen phallus after being chilled to the marrow during his 28th place finish.
His teammate Jon Sallinen also had a bit of misfortune as the "Flying Finn" accidentally slammed into a videographer while airborne at the top of the pipe during the men's freeski halfpipe qualifying event in Beijing.
But the real high-flyer throughout the whole Winter Olympics in China was its adorable mascot Bing Dwen Dwen. The sales of the soft toys depicting the phenomenon panda had gone through the roof right from the opening day of the quadrennial event. People even lined up for hours outside stores, sometimes overnight, to purchase the most sought-after souvenir in Winter Olympics history. At the same time, the manufacturers had to ramp up their production even by providing free air tickets and special bonuses to their factory workers to return to work in the middle of the Spring Festival holidays.
Meanwhile, down the snowy slopes, the Norwegians, as expected and quite inconspicuously, set the woods on fire with 16 golds and an overall 37 medals to end their campaign atop the medal table.
However, the powerful President's parka, a personified panda, and a petite princess charming perfectly summed up an Olympic-sized Winter's Tale in the heart of the Middle Kingdom.
(The writer is a media professional, published author and documentary filmmaker)