Huge drop in audience for the opening ceremony

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Sunday’s competition will feature seven medal events at the 2022 Beijing Olympics: cross-country skiing (15km + 15km men), freestyle skiing (women’s moguls), luge (men’s singles), ski jumping (men’s individual normal hill) , snowboarding (men) slopestyle), speed skating (5000m men) and alpine skiing (downhill men).

It will be a chance for the United States to step onto the podium for the first time after being shut out in Friday’s slate of events.

There was good news on the COVID front as bobsledder Elana Meyers Taylor was cleared from solitary confinement after testing twice negative.

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NBC’s broadcast of the Opening Ceremony from Beijing hit an all-time low on Friday, averaging just 16 million American audience viewers, according to the network. The number includes viewership across its entire menu of networks and streaming services, according to early projections.

That’s a massive 43% drop in viewership from the 2018 opening ceremony in PyeongChang, South Korea, which drew 28.3 million viewers.

There are several reasons that could explain the low numbers to start these Olympics.

Excitement around these Games has been dampened in the United States due to the controversy surrounding the host country, China. The United States is one of many governments to mount a diplomatic boycott on human rights issues, including what it has called genocide against the Uyghur people and other ethnic minorities in the region of Xianjing.

Another potential factor working against NBC is viewer fatigue. Because the Tokyo Games scheduled for 2020 were delayed by a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this is the second Olympic Games in six months.

It’s also likely that time zone issues played a role. This is the third Olympics in a row in Asia, which means live coverage usually takes place early in the morning or during the night for American audiences. The reduced viewership for the Beijing opening ceremony was heralded by what happened in Tokyo, when preliminary NBC figures showed an audience of 17 million.

These are still significant television ratings for the Friday night primetime viewing windows in the US, but disappointing compared to previous Games. NBC paid $7.75 billion in 2014 to extend its exclusive rights to broadcast the Olympics until 2032.

—Dan Wolken

BEIJING — The United States entered the second day of the figure skating team event in first place. And he turned to a pair of experienced skaters in hopes they would keep up.

Veteran Karen Chen was chosen to skate the women’s short program ahead of first-time Olympians Mariah Bell and Alysa Liu. Chen, 22, placed 11th at the 2018 Olympics and fourth at the 2017 and 2021 world championships.

On the men’s side, Vincent Zhou was asked to skate the long program and try to build on the performance of Nathan Chen, who set a personal best with his short program on Friday morning. Zhou’s long program is set to music from the movie “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”

The team competition will end on Monday.

—Tom Schad

BEIJING — Karen Chen doesn’t need to be spectacular when she skates in the figure skating team competition on Sunday morning, she just needs to be steady. But spectacular wouldn’t hurt.

With the United States holding a surprising lead after the first day of figure skating team competition, Chen will be the first American on the ice on Day 2, competing in the women’s short program. Her goal is to stay as close to Russia’s Kamila Valieva as possible in the team short program. Valieva is expected to win this part of the competition. How good are the Russians? Their three wives are expected to sweep the medals in the individual competition later at the Olympics.

With the United States ahead of Russia, 28-26, should Chen finish in the top three, she would ensure that Team USA would always be at least even with Russia. (First place is worth 10 points, second place 9, and so on.) Second place and the United States would still be in the lead heading into the men’s long program, the other event on Sunday.

Competition ends Monday with the pairs and women’s long programs and the free dance.

—Christine Brenan

ZHANGJIAKOU, China — Shaun White relishes the small parts — the last opening ceremony, the last time he checked out the halfpipe and, soon, his last Olympic runs.

White said what seemed likely: his fifth Winter Games will be his last full-fledged snowboarding competition, the last time anyone will see the three-time gold medalist on the stage he used to develop his sport.

“For me, it all had this incredible shine in every decision, in every competition, because it’s going to be my last Olympics,” White said on Saturday. “I’m so excited about everything. The opening ceremony was amazing. The venue looks amazing. I’m enjoying every moment.”

White said the decision became evident while training in Austria ahead of those Games. He had taken a break from training with a lingering ankle injury, suffered knee pain despite having surgery to fix it, and polished his back while training.

—Rachel Axon

BEIJING — Not enough food. Inedible meals. No training material. Some Olympic athletes unlucky enough to test positive for coronavirus at the Beijing Olympics believe their quarantine conditions are making a bad situation even worse.

“I have a stomach ache, I’m very pale and I have huge dark circles around my eyes. I want this all to end. I cry every day. I am very tired,” Russian biathlon competitor Valeria Vasnetsova posted on Instagram from one of Beijing’s so-called quarantine hotels.

His problem was not related to any symptoms of the virus. It was the food.

Associated press

BEIJING — Snowboarder Jamie Anderson takes fifth place after the slopestyle snowboard qualifier, paving the way for American women. The current and defending double gold medalist scored a 74.35 in her first run, good for a second place finish. Her next run was clean until the final moments when she crashed.

“I was definitely hoping to get that second run, but I’m going to take what I can,” Anderson told NBC. “I’m excited for tomorrow.”

Fellow American Julia Marino redeemed herself on her second run with a score of 71.78 and sixth place. Rounding out the Americans competing in the final, Hailey Langland is ninth after a clear second run that scored 68.71. The first 12 advance.

Courtney Rummel of Team USA finished 18th with a best score of 48.30 and will miss the final.

The final is scheduled to begin Saturday at 8:30 p.m. ET.

Alex Ptachick

BEIJING – It’s hard to learn a new downhill course when you don’t know how to ski it.

The third and final practice run for the men’s downhill was canceled after just three skiers on Saturday due to gusty winds. The forecast for Sunday’s race is more promising, said referee Markus Waldner.

“Two hours before the 11am start was good enough to go – like yesterday. Also, during the foreplay – we had five precursors – it was good enough to go. Sure,” Waldner said. “But then suddenly there were gusts of wind. … (We decided) it was dangerous. It’s unpredictable. We can’t handle that.”

The decision was criticized by some skiers, who already felt disadvantaged because no one had been on the course until the first practice run on Thursday. There have also been complaints that the three skiers who managed to qualify, one of whom was gold medal favorite Aleksander Aamodt Kilde, will have an advantage in Sunday’s race.

“Of course I can accept all this criticism coming from the riders, some coaches, that it’s an advantage for all three riders,” Waldner said. “But this is force majeure. We are an outdoor sport, force majeure, and we always make decisions in terms of safety.

“For security reasons, we have made this decision, very simple.”

Normally, skiers can familiarize themselves with the Olympic course in test events before the Games, but these have been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With Thursday being the first time they were able to ski the course, many used their initial practice run to simply do a mental check-up, noting the terrain, turns and jumps on the run. The remaining two runs would then be used to increase speed and find areas where they could be aggressive.

But they will have to make do with what they got on Thursday and Friday.

Bryce Bennett, the top-ranked American in downhill this season, said he had no problem with the decision to cancel. In some ways, he said, it worked better.

“For me, personally, three practice runs is tough. I think it’s too much,” Bennett said. “You kind of become nonchalant.

“We had good inspections,” he added. “I had two inspections today, and I think it will be better, I hope, tomorrow. Pray to God I don’t have a headwind. Pray for a tailwind.

Nancy Armor

BEIJING — Team USA’s mixed doubles curling team picked up another key victory on Saturday, beating host China 7-5, about 24 hours after earning a win over Sweden.

With those two wins, the team of Vicky Persinger and Chris Plys moved to 3-2 halfway through the round robin. They are now tied for fourth place out of 10 teams, with four matches remaining.

The top four teams advance to the semi-finals.

Persinger and Plys’ next match against Canada at 7:05 a.m. ET will be particularly crucial, with neighboring countries now tied for that fourth and final spot. The United States will then face the Czech Republic and Switzerland on Sunday, and Great Britain on Monday.

Tom Schad

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