Olympics Winter 2022: Moderate Spectacle Amidst Global Controversy

Winter Olympics Open with Mixed Results

The second Olympics in less than a year kicked off Friday morning, with NBC struggling to find balance between dazzling spectacle and controversial backdrop.


The 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics featured the grandest and most ambitious opening ceremony in modern memory, an astonishing achievement for filmmaker Zhang Yimou. They were also an unsettling display of Chinese nationalism and high-tech propaganda.

This morning’s opening of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics: Without quite equaling that 2008 launch — the reduced attendance and scale were COVID necessities — Yimou’s second go-round as opening ceremonies orchestrator tried to make for the best showing possible.

The proceedings were also unsettling display of Chinese nationalism and high-tech propaganda, this time featuring genocide denial broadcast around the globe.


U.S. athletes during the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics
Ted Lasso


Any Olympic opening ceremony is going to be propaganda for the host country. It was true in Tokyo, as organizers offered limp spectacle as a distraction from protesters wondering if the games should be taking place at all. And it will be true in 2028, when the US brings the torch to Los Angeles.

NBC did not ignore the diplomatic boycott by the U.S. and other Western nations. Allegations of China’s human rights abuses and genocide of the Uyghur people and other ethnic and religious minorities were raised by host Mike Tirico in the preshow before the opening.

The traditional climax, the lighting of the cauldron, was at the center of one giant snowflake made of smaller snowflakes festooned with the names of participating countries.

One of the two athletes selected for the final torch honor was Dinigeer Yilamujiang, a cross country skier. Yilamujiang had Uyghur heritage, demonstrating China thumbing its nose at accusations of abuses against the Uyghurs.

Offering no explanation leaves the audience entirely ignorant. Offering superficial explanation, though, becomes tantamount to parroting the agenda of the Chinese regime.

The NBC opening ceremony telecast struggled to progress beyond the trivial. The lone Olympian from Haiti came to be a downhill skier (Richardson Viano, who was adopted by an Italian family) or pointing out Israel’s first Orthodox female winter Olympian (Hailey Kops).

NBC didn’t hesitate to acknowledge simmering tensions between Russia and Ukraine, and we got to see Vladimir Putin, in attendance next to China’s President Xi, cheering for the Russian delegation after nearly feigning sleep when the Ukrainian athletes marched out.

In his films and in his Olympics ceremonies, Yimou delivers scale at high level. The LED screen that stretched the length of Beijing’s so-called Bird’s Nest stadium was used to astonishing effect, blending the virtual and real.

The giant block of ice that melted away to form the Olympic Rings was all computer-generated. But there was the part where the snowflake-holders — Chinese volunteers marching in front of the delegations with those snowflakes bearing each country’s name.

The blending of real and virtual was the synchronized roller-bladers skating their way, displacing virtual snow as they went. The surface then became a massive LED globe and, like the introductory 24-element documentary countdown celebrating the confluence of the Olympics and the start of the lunar calendar.

It wouldn’t be an Olympics opening without pandering performances by aggressively smiling children. Chinese kids dressed as snowflakes and singing about snowflakes and dancing with snowflakes as well as glowing white doves.