The rise of the Omicron variant has scrambled the sports world, setting off a new round of postponements and cancellations. But the Beijing Olympics are still scheduled to go on as planned, with the Opening Ceremony set for one month from today on Feb. 4.
This week, more athletes will be added to the U.S. team for the Winter Games, at the U.S. figure skating championships and Olympic trials for long track speedskating. Beijing will bring more people into its "closed loop,'' a lockdown zone designed to separate all Olympic participants from the public to minimize chances of an outbreak. And athletes all over the world will continue wearing masks and avoiding crowds, knowing a positive COVID test could knock them out of the Games.
China's Olympic organizers hope their COVID mitigation plan—which is more restrictive than the protocols for last summer's Tokyo Olympics—will keep Omicron at bay. International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said Saturday he has "great confidence'' that the Games will go on in a safe and secure fashion, but COVID will have the last word.
WHO'S IN/WHO'S OUT
Approximately 90 countries have been planning to send athletes to Beijing. None have pulled out at this point. A few—led by the United States —will not send any government officials, a move meant to protest China's human rights record.
The Beijing Games did lose one group of star athletes when the National Hockey League bowed out last month, choosing to keep its players home because of COVID concerns. The pandemic also has disrupted pre-Olympic competitions. Several athletes, including American skier Mikaela Shiffrin, have been temporarily sidelined by positive tests.
Officials from national Olympic committees are monitoring the situation carefully, and nervously. David Shoemaker, CEO of the Canadian Olympic Committee, told the CBC last week he is "worried'' about Omicron's impact, yet he also is "confident these Games can still be scheduled safely.'' Shoemaker added that postponing the Games has not been discussed with the IOC.
U.S. TEAM TAKING SHAPE
The U.S. named its 23-player women's Olympic hockey roster on Saturday during the NHL Winter Classic at Target Field. Olympic rosters also are finalized for men's, women's and mixed doubles curling, and for short track speedskating. A handful of athletes in other sports, including snowboarding and biathlon, also have locked up Olympic spots.
The American figure skating team will be decided at this week's U.S. championships in Nashville, where senior-level competition begins Thursday. US Speedskating will hold its long track Olympic trials Wednesday through Sunday in Milwaukee. An announcement of the men's hockey roster is expected next week.
Athletes in many skiing and snowboarding disciplines will earn places on the U.S. Olympic team through their performances in international events. Those teams are expected to be named shortly after the qualifying period ends on Jan. 16.
THIS WEEK: SKATING TIMES TWO
Figure skating takes center stage this week in Nashville, where the U.S. championships will help determine the 16 American skaters who will compete in Beijing. The team—three in women's singles, three in men's singles, three ice dancing teams and two pairs duos—will be named on the basis of their performances at nationals, with their achievements over the past two seasons also factoring in.
Three-time world champion Nathan Chen is favored to earn a second Olympic berth, with Vincent Zhou and Jason Brown also among the top men's contenders. The women's field is led by two-time U.S. champ Alysa Liu, 2018 Olympian Karen Chen and Grand Prix medalist Mariah Bell. The Olympic team will be announced Saturday (women's) and Sunday (men's, pairs and dance).
At the long track speedskating trials in Milwaukee, athletes will compete in 10 events over five days, with the Olympic team named Sunday. Entries with Minnesota connections include Macalester student Conor McDermott-Mostowy, who has competed on the World Cup circuit this season, and Giorgia Birkeland of White Bear Lake, who was 11th in the overall standings at last year's world junior championships.