The three-day torch relay for the Beijing Olympics began on Wednesday, with an 80-year-old former speedskater carrying the flame. The race was reduced due to worries about the coronavirus.
At the Olympic Foreign Park, the relay began. The first leg was run by Luo Zhihuan, China’s first international competitive speedskater.
The torch will be carried across the three Olympic zones, beginning in downtown Beijing and ending in Zhangjiakou, Hebei Province.
The Beijing Games have already had an impact on a magnitude comparable to that of the Summer Olympics in Tokyo last year. Only chosen spectators will be permitted to attend events, according to China, and Olympic athletes, officials, workers, and media would be compelled to remain within a bubble that isolates them from the general public.
Only a few COVID-19 instances have been recorded in Beijing, which has a population of 20 million people. Two new cases were reported on Wednesday. However, rigorous guidelines demand lockdowns and mass testing when any true or suspected case is identified, in keeping with China’s “zero tolerance” response to the pandemic.
Luo, who received the torch from Vice Premier Han Zheng and claimed it was the culmination of a decades-long dream, seemed unfazed by the shortened event.
“I’ve never competed in the Winter Olympics, so I’ve wished for our nation to host the Winter Olympics for nearly 60 years,” Luo remarked, donning a red and white blazer with the number 1 on it. “Today, a dream of mine came true… “I’m overjoyed!”
The Beijing Games begin only days after the Lunar New Year holiday, China’s most important annual event, during which millions of people go to their hometowns for family reunions. The government has encouraged anyone living away from home to remain put for the second year in a row, and rail and aircraft travel has been restricted.
Starting two weeks before the event, participants in the torch relay were subjected to health checks and were closely monitored.
Jing Haipeng, captain of the Chinese Astronaut Corps, Ye Peijian, a 77-year-old consultant to China’s lunar exploration program, former NBA player Yao Ming, and Chinese film director Zhang Yimou, who will direct Friday’s opening ceremony at the Bird’s Nest, were among the 135 torchbearers heading out Wednesday.
The scaled-down torch relay is a far cry from Beijing’s worldwide torch relay in 2008, when the Olympic flame was despatched on a globe voyage ahead of hosting the Summer Games that year. Protests against China’s human rights breaches and policies in Tibet, Xinjiang, and elsewhere erupted throughout the relay, resulting in violent clashes and the cancellation of certain international stages.
Similar political scandals, as well as medical concerns, have plagued the Winter Games.
Six weeks ago, the United States, the United Kingdom, and numerous allies announced that they would not send dignitaries to the Beijing Olympics in protest of the Communist Party regime’s human rights violations.
The organizing committee has threatened athletes with “certain punishments” if they say or do anything that might offend their Chinese hosts, and several delegations have advised athletes to bring “burner” phones instead of their personal devices due to concerns that their personal information might be compromised.
The National Hockey League withdrew all of its players from the Olympic event due to the pandemic’s unpredictability. NBC has announced that it will not send announcing teams to China, citing the same virus worries that caused the network to remove the majority of its correspondents from the Tokyo Olympics.