The 24th Winter Olympics was declared open in Beijing after a spectacular ceremony packed with familiar schmaltz and well-meaning speeches, climaxing in an unexpected and controversial twist.

Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, in his welcoming speech, told the Olympians: "You the Olympic athletes – you will show how the world would look like, if we all respect the same rules and each other.

"There will be no discrimination for any reason whatsoever. In our fragile world, where division, conflict and mistrust are on the rise, we show the world: yes, it is possible to be fierce rivals, while at the same time living peacefully and respectfully together.

"This is the mission of the Olympic Games: bringing us together in peaceful competition. Always building bridges, never erecting walls. Uniting humankind in all our diversity."

Bach added: "In this Olympic spirit of peace, I appeal to all political authorities across the globe: observe your commitment to this Olympic truce. Give peace a chance."

The concept of the Olympic truce dates back almost 3,000 years and calls for peace during the Games period.

At a time when there are concerns over a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine, it is particularly relevant.

Chinese Uyghur athlete Dinigeer Yilamujiang, a 20-year-old cross country skier, was chosen to light the Olympic cauldron alongside Nordic combined competitor Zhao Jiawen.

These Games are also taking place against a backdrop not only of a pandemic but of concerns over China's human rights record, notably with allegations of crimes against humanity being committed against the Uyghur population in the region of Xinjiang.

This has been described by the United States as a genocide against the Muslim ethnic minority, with Amnesty accusing China of "systematic state-organised mass imprisonment, torture and persecution".

Yilamujiang, who in 2019 became China's first cross country skiing medallist in an International Ski Federation event, joined Zhao in placing the Olympic torch at the heart of a giant snowflake.

The choice was swiftly condemned as a stunt by campaign group Human Rights Watch, whose China director Sophie Richardson wrote on Twitter: "The @Olympics cauldron was just lit by one person whose #Uyghur community #China govt seeks to destroy.

"You are a disgrace, @Beijing2022, and there is not a hell hot enough for whoever thought this up."

The cauldron lighting followed Xi Jinping, president of China, formally declaring the Games open.

Doubtless there will be much to enjoy about competition during the Games, but this has been a rocky build-up.

Away from the Uyghur situation, concerns also persist about the safety and wellbeing of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai, after her accusations, since withdrawn, of sexual assault against a prominent former politician.

This was a ceremony that had been boycotted, officially by some and semi-officially in other cases, by several of the world's political leaders, with the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia among those who did not send such representatives to watch the spectacle.

Russian leader Vladimir Putin was in Beijing to meet with President Xi ahead of the ceremony, however, and was also on the guest list for the big show itself.

Friday night's ceremony was held at the Bird's Nest stadium, which also hosted the opening of the 2008 summer Olympics, with the show's artistic direction coming from film-maker Zhang Yimou.

Cross country skier Wang Qiang and halfpipe snowboarder Liu Jiayu were the athletes chosen to deliver the Olympic oath, while snowflakes dominated the show.

A version of John Lennon's Imagine, an inevitable staple of such ceremonies, rang out, and the show was a technological feast of treats, with its centre stage made up of 11,600 square metres of HD LED screen.

Competitors from Ukraine came in dancing and waving, while away from the politics there were flag-bearers with stories to tell, such as Jamaican bobsleigher Jazmine Fenlator-Victorian.

Jamaican bobsleighing is destined to be forever intertwined with the 1993 Hollywood hit comedy movie Cool Runnings, but for Fenlator-Victorian there was a sense of solemnity about this occasion.

"I have a lot of emotions," she said. "My sister recently passed away a few weeks ago.

"I wasn't sure I would even be able to walk in today, so to be standing here without getting too emotional is more than words can say. To have my team-mates backing me up and choosing me as one of the representatives to hold the flag is priceless.

"Back home we are all hustlers, we grind, some people still don't have running water. Different things happen, so instead of dwelling on those negativities we just try and uplift each other and keep the vibes up."

Keeping the vibes up might be as good as any motto for these troubled Olympics.

China ended a 24-year wait for a women's ice hockey group game win at the Winter Olympics as the hosts earned a 3-1 victory over Denmark.

On the official first day of the Games in Beijing, it was a timely win for the home team at the Wukesong Sports Centre.

There has of course been action ahead of Friday's formal start, and China were beaten 3-1 by Czech Republic in their opening game on Thursday.

But on the day the world began to focus on the snow and ice show in Beijing, the home team raised their game to battle back from going behind to Malene Frandsen's early strike.

Lin Qiqi drew China level when she deflected home Yu Baiwei's shot in the 37th minute, and the teams remained level heading into the final minute. China went ahead with 51 seconds remaining in the third period as Lin Ni rattled in from close range, before Lin Qiqi struck a long-range shot into an empty net moments later to make sure.

Yu said: "It was a big win, also a special day. I think both teams played good. We did not give up until the last minute, last second. I just kept shooting and hoped I could help the team."

Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) beat Switzerland 5-2, and next for the Russians is a Saturday showdown with reigning Olympic champions the United States.

There was American success on Friday in figure skating as the three-day team event got under way, with the USA leading the way after the first three disciplines.

US star Nathan Chen edged out Japan's Shoma Uno in the men's short programme, while Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue led the way in rhythm dance, lifting the Americans to 28 points overall, two clear of ROC and seven ahead of China in third.

USA co-captain Evan Bates said: "Our team has great potential, and that was demonstrated in the great performances. I don't necessarily think we feel surprised to be leading. Looking at the roster, we know we have the potential to bring home the gold medal."

Italy remain the only team with a 100 per cent winning record in curling's mixed doubles after Amos Mosaner and Stefania Constantini fended off Norway 11-8 and scored a 10-2 trouncing of the Czech Republic team on Friday, making it four wins from four. Canada, Sweden and Great Britain each have three wins so far.

The 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games officially begin on Friday.

Beijing’s National Stadium - aka, the Bird's Nest - will host the opening ceremony at 20:00 local time (12:00 GMT) 14 years after it did so for the 2008 Summer Games.

President Xi Jinping will be in attendance to officially open the Games, and the ceremony will be directed by celebrated Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou, who has promised a simpler show than the one he directed in 2008, with an apparently unprecedented method of lighting the Olympic flame.

Away from the pyrotechnics, the flag bearing and the flame lighting, Stats Perform gives you a rundown of what other events take place in Beijing on Friday.

Alpine skiing

The second men's downhill training run takes place on Friday at Yanqing National Alpine Skiing Centre.

The field includes highly-fancied Swiss star Marco Odermatt as well as one of his closest contenders, Norway's Aleksander Aamodt Kilde.

Curling

This will actually be the third day of the mixed doubles competition, with Italy (2-0) the only team to have not yet lost, though they have only played twice while eight of the other nine teams have played three matches. The Italians play Norway (1-2) in the morning session and Czech Republic (2-1) in the afternoon.

Hosts China (2-1) face Canada (1-1) in the afternoon session, after the Canadians take on Switzerland (2-1).

Australia (0-3) are the only team yet to record a win but will have two opportunities to do so on Friday. They play Sweden (2-1) in the morning followed by Great Britain (2-1) in the afternoon, when Sweden also face the United States (1-2).

Figure skating

The team event begins on Friday, with the men's single short programme followed by the ice dance rhythm dance and the pairs short programme.

The United States, Russian Olympic Committee and Japan are expected to perform well, though Japanese superstar Hanyu Yuzuru is saving himself for the men's singles competition, with Uno Shoma listed instead for the short programme.

Ice hockey

Two more games in the women's preliminary round take place as hosts China face Denmark while Russian Olympic Committee take on Switzerland.

Both China and Switzerland will be hoping to fare better than they did on Thursday, with the former losing 3-1 to Czech Republic while the latter were thrashed 12-1 by Canada.

Luge

It is also the third day of the luge, with the fifth and sixth men's training runs scheduled for Friday.

The German and Austrian athletes have so far dominated in Group A while the slightly more open Group B has seen Italy's representatives mostly impress, though Latvia's Kristers Aparjods has also been among the frontrunners.

Ski jumping

Day two of the men's and women's normal hill training takes place at the Zhangjiakou National Ski Jumping Centre.

Thursday saw Japan's Sara Takanashi rank first in two of the three women's rounds, while in the men's event there was little consistency to be found anywhere, though Norway's Daniel Huber registered the longest jump of 106 metres across the three rounds.

Canada men's ice hockey head coach Claude Julien will miss the Winter Olympics after falling on the ice in a team-building session and suffering broken ribs.

Former New Jersey Devils, Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens coach Julien sustained the injury blow while with the team in Switzerland, where Canada are completing their preparation for the Games in Beijing.

Julien, 61, had been preparing to lead a team who will hope to compete for Olympic gold, an honour Canada have achieved nine times in their history, most recently at the 2014 Games in Sochi. They are hampered this time by players from the NHL sitting out the Olympics, a decision that was announced in December.

Hockey Canada confirmed Julien's injury in a statement that said: "During a team-building activity at training camp in Switzerland, Julien slipped on ice and sustained fractured ribs. As per the advice of the team's medical staff and other medical experts, it was determined that he will be unable to fly to Beijing to participate in the 2022 Olympic Winter Games due to the injury."

Details of what the team-building activity involved have not been revealed.

Team general manager Shane Doan said: "Claude was beyond excited and honoured to be a member of Team Canada at the Olympics, and we are all disappointed that he will no longer be able to lead our team in Beijing.

"Claude is in great spirits and we will continue to do everything we can to support him. We ask that Claude's privacy please be respected at this time."

According to the Toronto Sun newspaper, Doan said Julien was "devastated" when told his injuries meant he could not join the team on their mission to China.

Former Chicago Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton takes over from Julien, with Doan saying: "We know he will do an exceptional job leading our team behind the bench in Beijing."

Colliton said: "While it is difficult to fill in for a coach that has a pedigree like Claude Julien, I am honoured to be considered as the person to lead Canada's men's Olympic team as head coach.

"We have a very close-knit, experienced coaching staff that has gained a lot of knowledge from Claude in our short time together, and I know our staff will continue to support each other as we look to achieve our goal of winning an Olympic gold medal."

Canada begin their Olympic campaign against Germany on February 10, before playing further preliminary group games against the United States on February 12 and China a day later.

Jared Bednar believes Taylor Hall's hit on Nathan MacKinnon is the type of challenge the NHL is looking to phase out.

The Colorado Avalanche had to play most of Wednesday's meeting with the Boston Bruins without five-time All-Star MacKinnon after Hall connected with his shoulder in the first period.

Hall's shot to the upper body resulted in MacKinnon's own stick snapping up into his face, causing bleeding from his nose as the Avs star lay on the ice.

MacKinnon left the ice and did not return, while Hall was given a five-minute major that was reduced to two minutes after a review.

Colorado went on to win 4-3 in overtime and sit top of the Central Division in the Western Conference with 30 victories this season, the highest total in the league.

Though coach Bednar thought the right decision had been made in regard to Hall's penalty, he claimed it is the type of dangerous hit that the league is hoping to force out of the game.

"I believe they probably made the right call with the two [minutes],'' Bednar told reporters.

"But it's the type of hit, whether it's really solid or just a glancing blow, it's the kind of hit the league is trying to get rid of.''

Bednar also confirmed that MacKinnon had come around after the blow and would be assessed ahead further on Thursday, with the Avalanche in action again on Friday against the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Avalanche, who led through Kurtis MacDermid early on, were down 3-1 in the third period before Samuel Girard pulled one back. Gabriel Landeskog tied the game with 36.5 seconds remaining before Cale Makar sealed the comeback win in overtime. 

"Not fun seeing one of your best friends and obviously your top player on the ice bleeding like that,'' added Landeskog.

"We didn't want to give up. We wanted to keep going. We got the big two points, keeping this thing going at home.''

The Avs have now won 17 games straight at home, just six behind the league record set by the 2011-12 Detroit Red Wings.

"That's our biggest win of the year," Bednar said.

Colorado Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar says there were signs of fatigue among his players despite extending their hot streak with a 4-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday.

The Avalanche have won five straight and are 10-0-1 from their past 11 games to sit atop the Western Conference's Central Division.

Mikko Rantanen, Kiefer Sherwood, Nicolas Aube-Kubel and Devon Toews all scored for Colorado while Darcy Kuemper made 40 saves to them to back-to-back wins.

Anze Kopitar scored a power-play goal for the Kings in the second period to make it 2-1, but third period goals from Aube-Kubel and Toews – an empty-netter with 1:35 remaining – sealed the win.

“We were not good through two periods, even just the simplest of tasks, plays, breakouts, regroups,” Bednar told reporters. “We were not moving the puck efficiently. We were beating it up.  To me, that’s a sign of fatigue.

“To finish the game the way we did with the stretch that we’ve been on, we’ll take the two points. It is what it is. We needed our goaltender tonight again, just like last night in Anaheim. We got the job done.

“I’m pretty proud of our group, especially after the way they played in the third period after what was a pretty rough night for two periods.”

Ryan Reaves has no doubt that the New York Rangers are worthy of their place among the NHL's elite teams.

The Rangers moved to 26-10-4 for the season with a 6-3 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday.

They top the Metropolitan Division and sit third in the overall Eastern Conference standings on 56 points, behind the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers.

Reaves, who turned 35 on Thursday, scored the first two goals of his Rangers career in the win over Toronto, doubling his tally from last season with the Vegas Golden Knights.

When asked if Rangers had to now be considered as one of the best teams in the NHL, Reaves told reporters: "I think we know it. I think maybe some of the league doesn't believe it, but let them keep [not] believing it.

"We're gonna keep doing our thing and, I mean, the standings don't lie."

The Rangers have not won a division title since 2014-15, while their last Conference Championship came a year before that. The most recent of their four Stanley Cup triumphs, meanwhile, was achieved in the 1993-94 season.

Next up for the Rangers is a huge, top-of-the-standings contest against the Carolina Hurricanes, who sit just behind New York in the Metropolitan Division.

"It shows that we can hang with the big boys, that we are one of the big boys," a bullish Reaves continued.

"We've got to keep beating the playoff teams. That's something we've talked about, but I think we're proving to the league that we're a contender."

NHL players who test positive for coronavirus and are fully vaccinated may only have to isolate for five days as part of changes to the league's health protocols.

Previously, any player or staff member to record a positive test would have to isolate for 10 days.

Outbreaks among teams this month caused the league to begin its Christmas break early and pause all games that involved cross-border travel between the United States and Canada.

However, following updated guidance from the USA's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the NHL and the National Hockey League Players' Association (NHLPA) agreed to modify regulations.

Players and team operations staff who test positive will now only have to isolate for five days, or, if they develop a fever, "until their fever resolves".

Asymptomatic individuals or those with improving symptoms will be cleared to return to practice and games if they provide a test that is either negative or falls within certain parameters.

They will also require medical clearance from team doctors and the permission of their local health authority. They must also wear a mask around others for another five days, except for during practice and games.

NHL medical experts will review the changes to the measures on or before January 12.

The NHL has postponed another three games this week as cases of COVID-19 continues to hit the league.

Games between the Chicago Blackhawks and Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday and a home-and-home set between the Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday and Friday will not be played.

That takes the number of games the NHL has now postponed up to 67 this season; a situation that led to the decision not to take part in the 2022 Beijing Olympics.

The league had planned to pause the season in February to allow players to take part in the Games, but that period will now be used to play some of the postponed games.

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said last week: "We obviously will work very close with the (NHL) Players' Association. I do think we'll have to build in some off time during that three-week period for the players as they had anticipated previously.

"There are a lot of boxes to check there, but I expect that we'll be able to portion some portion of that break period to various clubs to get their players rested, and I hope to make full utilisation of the period so that we can make up the games that we've missed."

The National Hockey League will begin its Christmas break early due to coronavirus-related postponements. 

The league announced Monday that it will pause games for five days beginning Wednesday, with the schedule set to resume December 27. 

With that move, the final games before the break are set for Tuesday, with the Washington Capitals visiting the Philadelphia Flyers and the Vegas Golden Knights hosting the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The other eight games set to be played Tuesday already had been postponed due to COVID-19. 

Four of the five games scheduled for Monday also were postponed, with only the Dallas Stars-Minnesota Wild game taking place. 

The early break will officially wipe out all 19 games scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday, all but five of which already had been called off. 

Players are now set to report back to their teams on December 26 for testing, practice and travel. All members of a team's travelling party must have a negative COVID-19 test before entering a team facility upon return. 

Monday's decision came a day after the league said it would pause all games that involved cross-border travel between the United States and Canada, in addition to multiple individual teams being shut down due to positive COVID-19 tests. 

"With the number one priority of maintaining the health and safety of our NHL community, and amid changing and unpredictable conditions, we are determined to remain flexible and adaptable both in terms of scheduling and in adjusting protocols as necessary," the league said in a statement Sunday.   

 

 

The Columbus Blue Jackets and Montreal Canadiens have taken the number of NHL teams to shut down through the holiday break to nine due to coronavirus concerns.

It was announced by the league on Monday that the Blues Jackets' games against the Buffalo Sabres on Monday and Thursday had been postponed.

The Canadiens' games prior to the break had already been called off amid a surge in COVID-19 cases, with a total of 42 games now having been postponed this season.

Developments involving Columbus and Montreal came a day after the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs also shut down through the holiday break.

The Boston Bruins, Nashville Predators, Calgary Flames, Colorado Avalanche and Florida Panthers had already announced shut-downs.

Cross-border games between the United States and Canadian teams have been postponed through the holiday break due to the concern about travel been the two countries and "the fluid nature of federal travel restrictions".

The NHL and National Hockey League Players' Association (NHLPA) are also discussing the matter of player participation in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

A decision is expected to be announced in the coming days. 

The league has until January 10 to pull out of the Winter Games without being penalised financially, but it retains the right to cancel its plans up until players are scheduled to travel to Beijing in early February.

The National Hockey League (NHL) has postponed games between American and Canadian sides due to COVID-19 outbreaks, while players' participation at the 2022 Winter Olympics is in doubt.

The league announced on Sunday that 27 games had already been postponed as of the previous day, with the NHL and National Hockey League Players' Association (NHLPA) jointly reporting at least 12 more games would be cancelled through to December 23.

That is due to the fixtures involving travel between the United States and Canada, as the league continues to make a decision on postponements and monitor the "enhanced prevention and detection measures" daily.

"Although there has been a recent increase in positive COVID test results among [layers, coaches and hockey staff, there have been a low number of positive cases that have resulted in concerning symptoms or serious illness," a league statement read. 

"Therefore, the NHLPA's and NHL's medical experts have determined that, with virtually all players and club hockey staff fully vaccinated, the need to temporarily shut down individual teams should continue to be made on a case-by-case basis. 

"With the number one priority of maintaining the health and safety of our NHL community, and amid changing and unpredictable conditions, we are determined to remain flexible and adaptable both in terms of scheduling and in adjusting protocols as necessary."

Six NHL teams have been forced to shut down in the past week as the Detroit Red Wings became the latest, joining the Boston Bruins, Nashville Predators, Calgary Flames, Colorado Avalanche and Florida Panthers.

The NHL and NHLPA are also actively discussing the matter of NHL player participation in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

A decision is expected to be announced in the coming days. 

The league has until January 10 to pull out of the Winter Games without being penalised financially, but it retains the right to cancel its plans up until players are scheduled to travel to Beijing in early February.

The Calgary Flames' next three NHL games have been postponed amid a coronavirus outbreak in the team.

A total of six players and one staff member have entered NHL COVID-19 protocol, the league confirmed on Monday.

Forwards Elias Lindholm, Andrew Mangiapane, Brad Richardson and Adam Ruzicka, defensemen Christopher Tanev and Nikita Zadorov all entered protocol, along with a staff member.

The NHL suggested there may be further cases confirmed in the days ahead, with the team's training facilities closed until further notice.

The Flames (15-7-6) had been set to face the Chicago Blackhawks on Monday, but that game and the subsequent fixtures with the Nashville Predators and the Toronto Maple Leafs will be rescheduled. 

Saturday's game at home to the Columbus Blue Jackets is still set to take place.

Colorado Avalanche Jacob MacDonald was alert and responsive after being taken off the ice on a stretcher following a hit from Ryan Lomberg in their win over the Florida Panthers on Sunday.

MacDonald was sent crashing to the ice by Lomberg in the second period, prompting an immediate stoppage in play and a fight between Lomberg and MacDonald's furious team-mate Nicolas Aube-Kubel.

A statement from the Avalanche shortly after said MacDonald had full movement following the second incident in less than a week that has seen an NHL player taken off on a stretcher.

Jujhar Khaira was also carried off in the Chicago Blackhawks' loss to the New York Rangers after a hit from Jacob Trouba.

"Scary moment, but apparently he's seen our trainers and everything's good," Colorado coach Jared Bednar said. "I think [the hit] might have been clean, yeah. I only got the one angle on it. They kept showing it over and over, and it looks clean from there.

"Physicality's part of the game. I don't like seeing guys go down, especially when they can't get up, but I don't think you can take it out of the game." 

Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson added: "Just tough to see from probably either team. It's a fast game out there, you move upwards of 20 mph. It's physical and things move fast.

"It's an unfortunate play, super scary for Jacob. It's tough, you just never want to see that and hopefully he's OK. 

"That's the stuff that makes you sick to your stomach when it happens to any team-mate or opponent.

"Unfortunately those hits are still part of our game. ... What is that now, two in a week that you've seen guys stretchered off? That's not good for our game."

Composure was the key to the St Louis Blues stunning three-goal comeback after defeating back-to-back champions Tampa Bay Lightning 4-3 in a shootout win in the NHL on Tuesday.

The Blues trailed 3-0 at 5:29 in the opening period as Erik Cernak and Corey Perry scored five seconds apart for the Lightning.

St Louis rallied with two second period goals while Jordan Binnington made 30 saves and was perfect in the shootout.

Blues scorer Ryan O'Reilly told reporters: "The coaching staff was positive with us and had a good message of just sticking with it and build it up and knowing that there's a lot of game left. That's exactly what we did.

"I thought everyone did a good job at not being fazed. It's not what we wanted but it's a long game."

Blues coach Craig Berube said: "You've got to feel what's going on in the game. You've got to stay composed. I just told our team there's a lot of hockey, stay with it. we've got to get one back. Get some momentum going."

The Lightning had a chance to win the game in over-time after Blues forward Jordan Kyrou's penalty but could not clinch it.

"We went to overtime, we had our chances, but we didn't get it done," Lightning coach Job Cooper said. "We were a tired group at the end there."

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