Competition in COVID: What to expect at 2022 Winter Olympics

Chloe Craft

The 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China opened Friday, Feb. 4 featuring some significant changes with the looming threat of COVID-19. These protective measures, enacted to reduce competitors’ exposure to COVID-19, are much more comprehensive than those at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. 

At the 2020 games, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) declared that vaccinations were encouraged but not required. This rule will remain in place for the 2022 games, though individual countries have the freedom to instate their own regulations. In fact, the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC) required that all American athletes must be fully vaccinated to compete at the games.

According to estimates from USOPC Chief Medical Officer, Jonathan Finnoff, in a Jan. 20 interview with Associated Press, 100 out of 613 U.S. athletes at the 2020 Games were unvaccinated. By comparison, all 240 U.S. athletes attending the 2022 Games are fully vaccinated.

“Vaccination is sort of the foundation of our COVID-19 mitigation protocol,” Finnoff said. “[COVID-19 countermeasures] really resonated with the athletes.”

Several cuts to the selection of U.S. athletes left some winter sports fans disappointed. One such sport is hockey, which was reported by a 2018 Google analysis of Youtube data to be the most-viewed Winter Olympic sport in the U.S. Due to the spread of COVID-19, however, players from the National Hockey League (NHL) who play all year are barred from playing for Team USA at the 2022 Games.

Facing off for their first game, women’s hockey teams from the U.S. and Canada revive their long-standing rivalry. (Photo courtesy of Hiroko Masuike)

Previously, the NHL decided to prohibit players from the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics due to concerns that their participation in the Games would negatively affect performance in the professional hockey season. NHL officials gave players permission to participate in the 2022 and 2026 Games until rising COVID-19 cases caused NHL officials to retract their previous promise.

The decision frustrated fans of the NHL, such as sophomore Nikolas Angus.

“I don’t think it’s fair for the NHL to not let players compete [in the Olympics],” Angus said. “When the basketball team played at the Summer Olympics, NBA players were on Team USA. I get wanting to prevent COVID but I don’t think [the NHL’s decision] is fair.”

Even though the NHL will not send athletes to Team USA, Angus and other fans still plan to watch.

I’m definitely still going to watch the Olympics. I’m excited to look at the hockey matches, especially because I know that Canada and the U.S. have a rivalry, and as of the last [Winter] Olympics, Canada has won more games than the U.S.,” Angus said.

Skiing her first event at the games, Mikaela Shiffrin shows off her skills as an Olympic veteran. (Photo courtesy of Robert Bukaty)

Unlike hockey, sports without professional leagues did not experience such setbacks. This year’s games have especially allowed athletes with a history of Olympic competition to return. Alpine skiing is among these, where nine out of the 17 athletes competing in Beijing will be making their Olympic debuts alongside big names such as two-time Olympic gold medalist Mikaela Shiffrin. Shiffrin is a favorite of junior Shannon Halberstadt, a former competitive skier, and fan of the games.

“When I was racing, Julia Mancuso was very popular, along with Mikaela Shiffrin. I still like [their skills],” Halberstadt said. “I’m excited to see how it goes.”

Halberstadt is glad that popular skiers will still be included in the Olympics and though she acknowledges how it may be different, she is grateful that the games will still be able to commence.

“It might not feel like the same experience of the Olympics before [COVID-19], but if they keep COVID under control and still allow for the Olympics to happen, then that’s nicer than it not happening at all,” Halberstadt said.

Alpine skiing may look a little different in Beijing– to protect the health of themselves and others, athletes in all sports are required to wear masks while practicing and remove their masks only for a brief photo opportunity during medal ceremonies. Athletes and personnel will stay in “bubble” residences, and spectators will watch their favorite events in confined screening areas to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in large arenas, rinks and crowds.



Despite this, the athletic competition itself will mostly remain the same. Alpine skiing is one of the seven general sports at the games, overarching 15 divisions with a record total of 109 events. These will include a few new events that will headline along with classic events such as figure skating, which, according to a 2022 survey by YouGov, is the most followed Olympic sport in the U.S. 

Preparing for men’s short program, Nathan Chen is a crowd favorite in figure skating. (Photo courtesy of Doug Mills)

One fan is senior Yaelle Etienne, who plans to watch Olympic figure skating as soon as it’s available— one of the 66% of Redwood students who are planning to watch the games.

“I follow ice skating, and I love watching [figure skating] in the Olympics. I hope I can see it in the Olympics in February,” Etienne said.

Etienne also expects a different Olympic experience because of the recent COVID-19 surge but estimates that the excitement usually accompanying the Olympics will still be present in Beijing. 


“[This year] will be different, maybe [the Olympics] not going to be as exciting as seeing all the people watching and competing in one place together, but it is there to protect [athletes]. It’s for health concerns,” Etienne said. “Out of anything [I want to see at the games], I don’t want anyone to get hurt. ”

Though the threat of COVID-19 is ever-present, fans from across the world are just as excited to tune in to the games. If anything, the setbacks within the past year have shown that no obstacles can diminish the Olympic spirit. 

The 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing, China will begin Friday, Feb. 4, and you can tune in though NBC, on CNBC, USA Network, and its streaming app, Peacock.

Watch the Olympics online here.