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Foreign Athletes at Beijing Olympics Not Getting the Food Needed to Compete Properly: Reports

Leo Timm covers China-related news, culture, and history. Follow him on Twitter at @kunlunpeaks
Published: February 7, 2022
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Poland's Natalia Maliszewska competes in the women's 500m short track speed skating quarter-final event during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games, at the Gangneung Ice Arena in Gangneung on February 13, 2018. (Image: MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP via Getty Images)

Foreign athletes in Beijing for the 2022 Winter Olympics have complained of bad conditions while quarantined under the Chinese authorities’ high-intensity COVID-19 measures — giving the elite sportists a glimpse of the treatment many Chinese have endured amidst the regime’s attempts to win a “people’s war” against the pandemic. 

All foreigners present for the Games are segregated from the general population, being restricted to a “closed loop” Olympic village except when training, competing, or when they leave China. 

Athletes report being driven desperate by poor food and accommodations, as well as quarantine for seemingly no reason. Those not in isolation say the Olympic events themselves are poorly organized. 

Driven to tears


Natalia Maliszewska, a speed skater from Poland, tested positive for COVID-19 at the Beijing airport and was put into isolated quarantine. One of some 350 foreigners isolated in the first few days around the start of the Games, she missed her event — the  500-meter short track event on Saturday, Feb. 5.  

“Since a week I have been living in fear and these changes in mood,” she said, as reported by The Guardian. “I cry until I have no more tears and make not only the people around me worry but myself too.”

Maliszewska, who had no symptoms, was eventually let out of quarantine and into the Olympic village after testing negative twice within 24 hours. But then she was woken suddenly at 3 a.m. one morning and put back into isolation due to a “mistake.” 

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Participants from China’s geopolitical partners do not seem exempt from the “mistake.” 

“I cry every day,” Valeria Vasnetsova, a Russian biathlon competitor isolated in a quarantine hotel, wrote in an Instagram post. 

“Today I ate all the fat they serve instead of meat because I was very hungry,” she wrote, saying that she was losing weight because the food was unpalatable. 

“My stomach hurts, I’m very pale, and I have huge black circles around my eyes. I want all this to end,” she wrote. 

According to Vasnetsova, athletes seemed to receive particularly bad food, as her team’s doctor who also tested positive was getting fresh fruit, salad, and prawns while she received only pasta, charred or fatty meat, and no vegetables. 

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‘We have to find a way to change this’

Other athletes reported not receiving nearly enough food to keep them in competitive condition, as well as being in talks with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Beijing organizers over the “unacceptable” accommodations. 

 On Feb. 5, German team chief Dirk Schimmelpfennig told reporters that the hotel rooms were “unacceptable, so we have to find a way to change this.”

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Dirk Schimmelpfennig, Chef the Mission of team Germany. talks to the media during the Opening Press Conference of team Germany at Olympic Village ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on July 21, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Image: Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)

The Olympic village is located in Zhangjiakou, a city on the edge of China’s Inner Mongolia region and a two-hour drive from Beijing proper.  

“These hotels were not shown to us in advance, and we have the situation that the athletes rightly ask for improvement,” he said. 

Beijing promised a “streamlined, safe and most splendid Games.” Instead, aside from the poor conditions, the  Olympic atmosphere is marred by widespread accusations surrounding the Chinese Communist Party’s massive human rights abuses and draconian approach to combating the spread of SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19 — that has taken a heavy toll on the Chinese people and economy

Marko Anttila, a ninth-round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2004 NHL draft, was “not getting good food” and was under tremendous mental stress, according to Jukka Jalonen, head coach of the Finnish men’s ice hockey team.

“For some reason, [China] won’t respect his human rights and that’s not a great situation,” Jalonen said in a press conference via Zoom on Feb. 6.

“Marko is a strong guy, mentally. He is not depressed, but he’s pretty down. A couple of times a day he gets cold and tasteless spaghetti bolognese.”