Beijing Olympics closes after drama, doping and golden Gu

Fireworks explode over the National Stadium, also known as the Bird’s Nest, at the end of the closing ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing on Sunday. (Reuters)
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Updated 21 February 2022

Beijing Olympics closes after drama, doping and golden Gu

  • ‘Bird’s Nest’ stadium was the scene for a celebratory, snowflake-themed closing ceremony

BEIJING: A Beijing Winter Olympics which saw sporting drama and milestones but was tarnished by a Russian doping scandal ended on Sunday with an uplifting closing ceremony.

The Games will be remembered for new stars such as Eileen Gu but also for the doping controversy which engulfed 15-year-old figure skater Kamila Valieva and because they took place inside a vast COVID-secure “bubble.”

The “Bird’s Nest” stadium, which also took center stage when Beijing hosted the 2008 Summer Games, was the scene for a celebratory, snowflake-themed closing ceremony attended by President Xi Jinping and a socially distanced crowd seated among red lanterns.

Declaring the Games closed and handing over to 2026 hosts Milano-Cortina, International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach hailed an “unforgettable Olympic experience.”

 

 

There was no feared mass outbreak of COVID at the Games or in the wider community in the Chinese capital, but Bach said: “If we want to finally overcome this pandemic, we must be faster, we must aim higher, we must be stronger — we must stand together.

“In this Olympic spirit of solidarity, we call on the international community: Give equal access to vaccines for everybody around the world.”

Fireworks lit up the night sky as the ceremony reached its crescendo, spelling out the words “ONE WORLD.”

Since the opening ceremony on February 4, a new global star emerged in the form of 18-year-old freestyle skier Gu, who was born in California but switched to China in 2019 and became the unofficial face of the Games.

There was a new men’s figure skating champion in 22-year-old Nathan Chen of the United States, who dethroned two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu, in what could be the Japanese legend’s final appearance at a Games.

Another iconic figure of winter sports, the American snowboarder Shaun White, will definitely not return to competition of any sort after calling it quits.

The 35-year-old’s last event ended agonizingly out of the medals and he was in tears as he bid farewell to snowboarding — “the love of my life.”

There was bitter disappointment for his fellow American, the alpine ski star Mikaela Shiffrin, one of the biggest names at the Games but who went home without a medal.

There were tears from Valieva after it emerged that she had failed a drugs test prior to the Games, catapulting her to the forefront of yet another Russian doping controversy to mar an Olympics and piling intense pressure on the teenager.

In what will go down as a notorious episode in the history of the Winter Olympics, the pre-tournament favorite for singles gold fell several times on the ice in the finals, to audible gasps from the socially distanced crowd of hand-picked spectators.

Her doping case looks certain to drag on in the coming months, long after the Games have packed up. She was allowed to skate in the Chinese capital but has not been cleared of doping.

In a Games first, the skating team medals were not awarded after Valieva played a starring role in propelling the Russians to gold, ahead of the United States and Japan.

The American skaters made an 11th-hour court bid on Saturday to get their hands on their medals before they went home, but the Court of Arbitration for Sport rejected it. China and its ruling Communist Party will look back on a soft-power success.

Fears about a mass COVID outbreak in the “closed loop” bubble sealing the nearly 3,000 athletes and about 65,000 others never materialized.

Some athletes did though catch the illness and the pandemic was never far away — Russia and Canada’s women ice hockey teams played each other wearing medical masks after the results of their daily PCR tests failed to arrive in time.

Concerns about human rights had dominated the buildup, with the United States leading a diplomatic boycott by its closest allies over China’s rights record, especially the fate of the Muslim Uyghur minority in Xinjiang. Their athletes did however compete.

China warned in the fraught lead-up that foreign athletes criticizing the authorities could face consequences, but in the end, any protests against the hosts were extremely muted.

There were numerous records — among them American bobsleigher Elana Meyers Taylor becoming the most decorated Black athlete in the history of the Winter Olympics.

Snowboarder Zoi Sadowski Synnott made history for New Zealand, winning her country’s first Winter Games gold; with Gu pocketing two golds, the hosts enjoyed a significant medal bump and finished third in the medals table with nine golds.

That was easily their best performance in the Winter Games, a place ahead of chief geopolitical rival the United States, on eight golds.

For the second Games in a row, Norway topped the medals table, with 16 golds. Germany were second on 12.


Police probe racism claims after fan abuse at England-India Test

Updated 05 July 2022

Police probe racism claims after fan abuse at England-India Test

  • The Bharat Army said "many" of its members at the Edgbaston ground had been targeted by "a very small minority" in Monday's fourth day of play
  • Inquiries are being made to identify an alleged offender whose image was circulated on social media

BIRMINGHAM, United Kingdom: Police have launched an investigation after India fans claimed they were racially abused during England’s fifth Test victory in Birmingham.
The Bharat Army, the official India supporters’ club, said “many” of its members at the Edgbaston ground had been targeted by “a very small minority” in Monday’s fourth day of play.
A post on the group’s Twitter account read: “Sad to say many of our members experienced racist abuse from a very small minority of individuals. We will work with @Edgbaston to share all your feedback.
“Thank you to those England fans who stood by us.”
West Midlands Police on Tuesday said they were liaising with officials at Edgbaston to understand what happened.
Inquiries are being made to identify an alleged offender whose image was circulated on social media.
The England and Wales Cricket Board said: “We are very concerned to hear reports of racist abuse at today’s Test match. We are in contact with colleagues at Edgbaston, who will investigate. There is no place for racism in cricket.”
Stuart Cain, chief executive at Edgbaston, added: “I’m gutted by these reports as we’re working hard to make Edgbaston a safe, welcoming environment for all.
“Having seen the initial tweets, I’ve spoken personally to the gentleman who raised them and we’re now speaking to the stewards in this area to establish what happened.
“Nobody should be subject to any form of abuse at Edgbaston. So, once we’ve got all the facts, we will make sure this issue is addressed swiftly.”
Former Yorkshire spinner Azeem Rafiq retweeted a thread detailing some of the alleged incidents along with the comment: “Disappointing to read.”
His evidence to a parliamentary select committee last year sparked an investigation into his claims of institutional racism at Yorkshire which resulted in ECB charges and major reforms.
England won the fifth Test on Tuesday’s final day after centuries from Yorkshire pair Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow.


Poulter, 2 others win court stay to play in Scottish Open

Updated 05 July 2022

Poulter, 2 others win court stay to play in Scottish Open

  • The PGA Tour suspended its members who signed up for the Saudi-backed series run by Greg Norman

VIRGINIA WATER, England: Ian Poulter and two other players who signed up for the Saudi-backed LIV Golf series won a stay Monday from a British court that allows them to play in the Scottish Open.

Poulter, Adrian Otaegui of Spain and Justin Harding of South Africa challenged their suspension from the Scottish Open and two other tournaments, the penalty for playing a LIV Golf event outside London without a release from the European tour.

They will be added to the field this week at The Renaissance Club for the Scottish Open, the first European Tour event co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.

The PGA Tour suspended its members who signed up for the Saudi-backed series run by Greg Norman. Poulter is also a PGA Tour member.

Poulter was among 16 players who hinted at legal action over European tour penalties, though the temporary stay after a hearing before Judge Phillip Sycamore, who was appointed by Sports Resolutions (UK), applied only to the three players.

“I will simply say we are disappointed by the outcome of today’s hearing, but will abide by the decision,” European Tour CEO Keith Pelley said in a statement. “It is important to remember, however, this is only a stay of the sanctions imposed, pending the hearing of the players’ appeal as to whether those sanctions were appropriate.”

Pelley was at the JP McManus Pro-Am in Ireland and said he would withhold a more detailed response until the charity event was over, out of respect to the hosts. McManus has attracted a world-class field that includes Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Scottie Scheffler and a host of other major champions.

Poulter also is playing the two-day event in Ireland.

Earlier in the day, he told BBC Sports he was fighting for his right to play golf.

“My commitment to the European Tour has been there since day one,” he said. “And it’s still there today. I’m proud of playing so often, when it was to the detriment of world ranking points and FedEx Cup points I could have earned playing more in America.”

Along with the suspension, players who competed in LIV Golf without permission were fined £100,000 ($121,000), roughly the amount of last-place money in the $20 million LIV events.


Five things to watch out for on the Tour de France

Updated 05 July 2022

Five things to watch out for on the Tour de France

DUNKIRK, FRANCE: The Tour de France gets back underway Tuesday after a successful three days in Denmark with a series of testing stages that will shape the destiny of the 2022 yellow jersey.

Here, AFP Sport takes a look at five things worth watching out for in the next seven days:

— With three hilly stages, two mountain days and the treacherous cobbles, attack-minded Mathieu van der Poel of Alpecin will be straining at the leash to once more claim the overall leader’s yellow jersey after a fine run in 2021. He can probably not do it in the mountains, but the one-day specialist sits just 20 seconds off Wout van Aert’s lead and may even go for the gun between Dunkirk and Calais on Tuesday.

— The Tour takes on 20km of the old mining roads that led the Paris-Roubaix to gain its nickname ‘the Hell of the North’. That stretch could provide a shake-up in the overall standings and may also reveal the true nature of the pecking order inside the teams with more than one leader.

If Tadej Pogacar’s hand injury is worse than he is showing, it will be put to a rude test. Ineos could protect Adam Yates, or opt to allow Geraint Thomas to plow on if he is in difficulty. Primoz Roglic would appear stronger for Jumbo, but they also have Jonas Vingegaard as a possible leader and will also consider how long to try and keep Wout van Aert in yellow.

— The last time the Tour took on this climb in the Vosges mountains to the storied summit finish, Thomas gained time on all his key rivals on the punishing upper reaches contested over gravel. The Tour winner will likely not be revealed here, with time differences between the overall contenders expected to remain within 30-40 seconds. But this is the Tour’s first summit finish, first mountain stage and will provide major form pointers ahead of the crucial Alpine stages ahead.

— The 10th stage in the Swiss Alps is potentially the most gruling test of the week, with over 40km of tough ascents. It will put Ineos’ promise to race aggressively to the test. They have two climbers in their ranks capable of a bid to put time into defending champion Pogacar, or at least wear him out on a Tour thin on traditional mountain challenges.

— Ineos were talking up a fight ahead of the Tour, suggesting they would race aggressively in their bid to end Pogacar’s reign. Their two leaders are climbers Daniel Martinez and Yates who will have to wait for the mountains to launch an attack. Jumbo-Visma, runners-up in the past two years, said they would be concentrating on just surviving the opening stages. The merits of those differing strategies will be put under the microscope this week.


Barcelona strengthen squad by adding Kessie, Christensen

Updated 05 July 2022

Barcelona strengthen squad by adding Kessie, Christensen

  • Kessie has 58 international appearances with his national team and played at the Tokyo Olympics as Ivory Coast reached the quarterfinals
  • Christensen comes after his contract with Chelsea ended. His deal is also until 2026 and contains the same buyout clause as Kessie’s

BARCELONA, Spain: Barcelona boosted their midfield and defense by signing Franck Kessie and Andreas Christensen on Monday.

The 25-year-old Kessie, who had been playing for AC Milan since 2017, arrives as a free agent on a contract until June 2026 and a buyout clause of €500 million ($522 million).

Christensen comes after his contract with Chelsea ended. His deal is also until 2026 and contains the same buyout clause as Kessie’s.

Kessie will be officially introduced on Wednesday. The Ivory Coast midfielder will be the second Ivorian to play for Barcelona, after Yaya Toure in the late 2000s.

The 26-year-old Christensen will be introduced on Thursday. The Danish central defender joined Chelsea’s youth teams in 2012 and had a stint with Borussia Mönchengladbach in the Bundesliga before returning to Chelsea.

Christensen helped Chelsea win the Champions League, the Europea League and the Club World Cup, and was on the Danish national team that reached the semifinals of the 2020 European Championship.

Barcelona called him “strong and with great vision, a powerful center back who is excellent in the air” and “technically proficient with the ball at his feet, a perfect fit” for the Catalan club.

Kessie has 58 international appearances with his national team and played at the Tokyo Olympics as Ivory Coast reached the quarterfinals.

Kessie moved to Italy in 2014 to sign for Atalanta, where he played in the club’s youth squads before joining second-division team Cesena on a loan. Coach Gian Piero Gasperini eventually brought him back to Atalanta and he scored twice in his Serie A debut in 2016.

Kessie joined Milan on loan in 2017 and permanently signed with the club in 2019 for €33 million ($34.5 million). He helped AC Milan win its first title in 11 seasons this year. In his six seasons with Atalanta and Milan, Kessie scored 45 goals.

Barcelona called Kessie “the complete package” and a “strong midfielder with tactical awareness.”

“Kessie is a player who contributes in attack and in defense,” the club said. “Capable of winning the ball back in midfield, the African midfielder also has impressive stats as a goal-scorer, partly due to his ability to make runs into the penalty area.”

He will join a midfield that includes Sergio Busquets, Nico González and Frenkie de Jong.


Galtier appointed PSG coach on two-year deal

Updated 05 July 2022

Galtier appointed PSG coach on two-year deal

  • The 55-year-old Galtier was pictured arriving at the Parisians’ offices just outside the French capital on Monday with a press conference scheduled at the Parc des Princes on Tuesday at 2 p.m. (1200 GMT)

PARIS: Christophe Galtier has been appointed coach of French champions Paris Saint-Germain on a two-year deal, club sources confirmed on Monday.

Galtier, who spent last season in charge of Ligue 1 rivals Nice, takes over from Argentine Mauricio Pochettino.

The 55-year-old Galtier was pictured arriving at the Parisians’ offices just outside the French capital on Monday with a press conference scheduled at the Parc des Princes on Tuesday at 2:00 p.m. (1200 GMT).

PSG have been working to secure the appointment of a new coach for several weeks, but no move has been finalized while Pochettino and his backroom staff remain under contract.

PSG’s squad, minus those who were on international duty in June, reported for pre-season training on Monday.

Galtier, who left Nice last month, has developed a reputation as the leading coach in the French club game over the last decade.

He enjoyed eight successful years at Saint-Etienne, where he won the League Cup in 2013, before a four-year stint at Lille was crowned with the Ligue 1 title in 2021, when they pipped PSG.

Pochettino is set to leave Paris after 18 months in charge in which time he won the Ligue 1 title last season but also oversaw a disappointing exit from the Champions League in the last 16 at the hands of Real Madrid.

Having at one point been linked with a move for Zinedine Zidane, PSG’s swoop for Galtier may come as a surprise to some who expected the Qatar-owned club to opt for a more glamorous name on the bench.

However, the former Portsmouth assistant manager previously worked with Luis Campos, the Portuguese super scout who was recently named as PSG’s football adviser and who built the Lille team that won the league under Galtier.

PSG’s hopes of Champions League success in the short term were boosted by Kylian Mbappe’s decision at the end of last season to turn down Real Madrid and sign a new three-year deal at the Parc des Princes.

They have already made one signing ahead of the new campaign with the arrival of 22-year-old Portuguese midfielder Vitinha from Porto for a reported fee of 40 million euros ($42 million).

Mbappe, Lionel Messi and PSG’s other international stars will begin pre-season training next week.

PSG will depart for a short pre-season tour of Japan to play three games between July 20 and 25, before their first competitive match of the campaign on July 31 against Nantes in the French season-opening Champions Trophy in Tel Aviv, Israel.

The Ligue 1 season will begin on the weekend of Aug. 6 and 7.