A Winter Olympics overshadowed by rights and Covid concerns will officially kick off in Beijing on Friday (11 p.m. AEDT) with an opening ceremony at “Bird’s Nest” stadium.
The distinctive lattice-shaped arena took center stage at the 2008 Games – considered China’s coming-out party to the world – and will do so again when Beijing becomes the first city to host the both the Summer and Winter Olympics.
But there’s plenty of action surrounding the Games today before the ceremony begins, with a Japanese star barred from the Olympics following a huge snowboarding accident – and an Australian threatening a remarkable Top 10 finish .
The Games will officially take place from February 4-20, followed by the Paralympic Winter Games from March 4-13.
We’ll have all the action covered from the opening ceremony to the events themselves here.
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MASSIVE CRASH ROCKS OLYMPIC GAMES
Japanese snowboarder Rina Yoshika has been ruled out of the Beijing Olympics after a horrific crash in training on Thursday.
It took 20 minutes for an ambulance to remove her from the snowboard slopestyle course after she injured her spine coming off a jump on the course at Genting Snow Park.
The Japanese Olympic Committee said the 22-year-old suffered a spinal injury but was not paralyzed, and said she would not compete in the slopestyle or Big Air events.
FERLAZZO FLYING TO TOP TEN BATTLE
Alexander Ferlazzo, Australia’s first-ever three-time Olympics luge competitor, has made a huge statement of intent as he seeks to break his own Australian record at the Games.
Ferlazzo made Australian history by claiming an all-time best finish of 28th at the 2018 Olympics, before taking a 16-month hiatus from sport during the coronavirus pandemic.
Now he has returned to action and is in fine form as he looks to break his own record.
After four practice sessions on the track, the best of Ferlazzo finished sixth in his group of 18 athletes, with 35 competitors in total.
But on Friday, in his fifth training session, Ferlazzo hurtled down the ice at a top speed of 130.4 km/h to finish in 58.300 seconds – a remarkable improvement of more than half a second on his previous best time of 58.878 seconds.
In a combined session with all 35 athletes, his time was good enough for 12th overall. The conditions were faster than the previous days, with five athletes going under 58 seconds.
Ferlazzo backed it up with a 58.569, good enough for 15th overall.
Luge competition based on combined times over four runs (two on Saturday evening, two on Sunday evening), which means consistency is crucial – and after his first training run, his next five training runs were less than 59 seconds.
“I’m doing much better every day thanks to track rides, systematic training and full practice runs, so I feel confident for tomorrow,” the 26-year-old said.
“I plan to chain four descents of which I am proud, above all, it is the most important thing”, he added about his objective for the competition.
“So where I am at the end of the competition event, I will be happy if I can put these rounds together flawlessly. Looking at how the season has progressed, I think a top 15 is a reasonable goal, and that’s what I’m going to try to achieve.
WHAT WILL THE CEREMONY LOOK LIKE?
A few spectators will be present at the opening ceremony but it is unclear how many and, like sporting events at the Games, tickets have not been sold to the general public due to the pandemic.
The ceremony is the brainchild of acclaimed Chinese director Zhang Yimou, who was behind the 2008 extravaganza, and will last around two hours.
Zhang promised a “totally innovative” show but conceded the pandemic and freezing weather will limit its scale compared to the Summer Games, when 15,000 performers took part in a lavish gala featuring opera singers, acrobats and drummers.
This time there will be around 3,000 performers and themes will include “environmental protection and low carbon emissions,” Zhang previously told state media.
But China’s claim that it will be a ‘green Games’ has been disputed by some experts as it will take place in one of the driest places in the country and on almost entirely artificial snow.
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Aerial skier Laura Peel and figure skater Brendan Kerry will carry the Australian flag.
It is the first time that Australia has deployed two flag bearers in a winter opening ceremony. But it comes after basketball star Patty Mills and swimmer Cate Campbell carried the flag at the Tokyo Summer Olympics
Kerry and Peel are both competing in their third Olympics.
HOW TO WATCH
The Beijing Winter Olympics will be shown in Australia on free-to-air TV on Channel 7.
You can also watch on the 7 Plus streaming platform.
WHAT ELSE IS ON?
Australia’s first-ever curling Olympians, Tahli Gill and Dean Hewitt, missed just one point from a miraculous comeback against the Swedish heavyweights in their fourth mixed doubles match.
Needing three runs to level the score and send it to extra ends, Gill’s final shot saw the Aussie claim two runs, finishing 7-6 losers.
This echoes the results of Australia’s first two games: 6-5 losers in both, which ended with Gill’s very last shot on each occasion.
The Swedes improve to 3-1, with Australia now 0-4.
But they will return to the ‘Ice Cube’ arena for their fifth mixed doubles match against another heavyweight in Britain this afternoon at 4.30pm AEDT.