Athleticism may be the obvious main focus of the Olympic Games, but with heightened hormones, unfathomable pressure and cameras creeping around every corner, drama is sure to arise, and gossip will closely follow. I didn’t watch more than five minutes of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic sporting events, but I was definitely glued to the behind-the-scenes scoop. Here are the most-discussed scandals and surprises I came across:
1. Russian skater dopes
If you thought Russia would learn its lesson to stop doping its athletes post-Olympic ban, you thought wrong. Under the Russian Olympic Committee, they continued to risk it all. Kamila Valieva, a 15-year-old Russian figure skater, was praised for being the first woman to land a quad — a jump that requires four rotations mid-air — in the Olympics. Just days later, the story broke that she failed a drug test prior to the Games. As a minor, the news of her positive test for trimetazidine — banned heart medication dubbed sports enhancement drug — was protected for an extended time, but not long enough to go unnoticed during the Games.
Controversy ensued around the morality of letting Valieva compete. Ultimately, as a minor under 16 years of age, she was allowed to continue as a “protected person” deemed by WADA’s doping code. Thus, Valieva skated after the media outbreak, and understandably, the crushing pressure resulted in a less-than-optimal performance followed by a meltdown. Sadly, Valieva is a victim of the adults responsible for this.
2. Mikaela Shiffrin disappoints
Mikaela Shiffrin’s performance resulted in a little less scandal and a lot more pity. Shiffrin, an American Alpine ski racer and two-time Olympic gold medalist, was a no-brainer favorite going into the Games. She surprised us all when she fell on her first individual run — and in Olympic skiing, when you fall, you’re out. After trying to shake it off, she fell again and again — landing Shiffrin three DNFs, for “did not finish,” out of her five individual events. In the end, Shiffrin walked away from the 2022 Games with no medals. Many fans felt compassion for a clearly shaken and upset Shiffrin, while others grew sick of the pity party.
“I don’t give a you-know-what about Mikaela Shiffrin!” Matty in the Morning star Lisa Donovan exclaimed.
Shiffrin’s poor performance prompted a comparison to U.S. Olympic gymnast Simone Biles, another Olympian who was expected to bring home the gold in 2020, but walked away due to her mental health. Shiffrin, however, managed to push through and compete in every event. With athletes in essentially the best state of physical health a person can be, the Games have revealed the full value of mental health, and how in the face of challenges, it can truly make or break you.
3. Condoms: From countless to zilch
With over 10,000 fit, attractive athletes confined to the Olympic Village for two or more weeks, it’s no surprise to learn the hotel rooms and rooftops are teeming with sex.
Olympic coordinators had long ago figured that if it’s going to happen, it might as well happen safely. Ever since the 1980s, condoms have been handed out in the Village in bulk — 450,000 condom freebies in Rio, to be exact. That’s almost 40 condoms per athlete, ranking in a bill close to $100,000.
But with strict COVID-19 policies, a grand total of zero condoms were handed out this year. Did that stop the Village? We might not ever get confirmation, but I think the answer is obvious.
While the 2022 Winter Olympics brought some harmless, fun entertainment, when stripped down, many scandals reveal serious issues ingrained in Olympic culture. The Games sparked important conversations about the holistic health of athletes and the consequences of throwing mental health to the curb. The traditional mindset of doing whatever it takes is becoming outdated as athletes value their well-being over a medal. This begs the question: How much would you sacrifice for the gold?