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People-to-people exchanges during Beijing 2022 illuminate the Olympic spirit
Stories of brief encounters make Olympic hearts flutter
By Tao Xing  ·  2022-02-12  ·   Source: NO.7 FEBRUARY 17, 2022
Screenshot of American snowboarder Tessa Maud's TikTok post

'Welcome to China!" Back in her hotel room after attending the opening ceremony of the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022, 18-year-old American snowboarder Tessa Maud couldn't stop watching a particular video she'd taken during the event: the greeting from a Chinese volunteer lining the parade of the nations in response to her saying nihao ("hello" in Chinese). She hailed it as "the cutest thing ever." The following day, on February 5, she posted the video on TikTok.

"That guy who said 'welcome to China' literally just makes me tear up every time, because they are so nice. All the volunteers are so sweet and so kind. They are just so happy that we are here. We feel so welcomed. That was just insane," Maud said in the video, wiping away her tears.

As the athlete makes her Olympic debut this year, Maud is documenting the whole thing and sharing it with the world. According to The New York Times, the girl shows snippets of daily life in Beijing's Olympic Village, taking her social media followers on tours of breakfast and dinner in the cafeteria, posting outfit-of-the-day videos in her Team USA gear and reviewing the village's smart beds.

Yet she probably never expected her short interaction would become a miniature symbol of Olympic friendship and sportsmanship at Beijing 2022.

'We found him'

Maud's video did not escape the attention of eagle-eyed Chinese netizens who quickly reposted it on Bilibili, China's hugely popular short video sharing platform. And so, in less than 24 hours' time, the unthinkable happened.

Sun Zeyu, a student at Tsinghua University, saw the video and immediately commented that he was, in fact, "that guy."

"Thanks to her lens, the most unforgettable moment of my life was captured," Sun wrote in his comment. "The kindness between human beings is the most beautiful thing and it is exactly what the Olympic Games mean to us."

Sun also wrote Maud a letter, in which he said he was touched she remembered him. "In that moment, when you passed by me, I heard your nihao, so I said 'Welcome to China'—from the bottom of my heart," Sun wrote, adding he would love to welcome her to China once again in the future—without the mask.

The letter made it to the snowboarder, and on February 6, Maud posted another TikTok video to thank Sun and all of her new friends who'd sent their blessings on TikTok. "Thank you so much for supporting me and being so loving and welcoming," she wrote.

Greetings gone global

Theirs is just one of many similar stories. Team Great Britain's short track speed skater Niall Treacy also thanked volunteers for getting them to the opening ceremony on time and taking them back to the Olympic Village again straight after so that they could get a good night's rest for the following day's competition.

Another interaction that made the online rounds was that between Team China and their U.S. opponents in the curling mixed doubles competition. Their gift exchange on February 5 stole the show at the National Aquatics Center, known as the Ice Cube during Beijing 2022 Games.

Despite losing their third straight match, 7:5, to the Americans, China's Ling Zhi and Fan Suyuan presented two sets of the Games' commemorative pins as gifts to their rivals Vicky Persinger and Christopher Plys during the post-game handshakes. Persinger and Plys later tweeted that they were "honored to receive these beautiful #Beijing2022 pin sets in a wonderful display of sportsmanship by our Chinese counterparts this afternoon."

According to China News Services, Ling and Fan also received gifts from Persinger and Plys. "We all maintain very friendly relationships," Ling added.

This account, too, received worldwide netizen applause. "What a beautiful moment, and a nice match as well. Congrats," one tweet read. "So awesome—genuine human-to-human interaction. Good job!" another said.

Japan's NHK also wrote that although China and the U.S. see their fair share of political disagreements, the curling event only witnessed friendly communications.

"Yuzuru Hanyu, where are you?" had been one of the most asked questions from Chinese netizens before the Japanese figure skater showed up for his short program on February 8.

Hanyu has broken an extraordinary 18 world scoring records, and still holds the current world record for the short program. He has won gold at both Sochi 2014 and Pyeongchang 2018. His charming nature, as well as his seamless skating, has given him a large fan base in China.

Though Chinese athlete Jin Boyang also competes in the figure skating competition, Chinese audiences are still cheering for Hanyu when watching the Games.

"I hope both Jin and Hanyu can obtain great scores," many people commented under the live broadcast.

Fan Suyuan (center) and Ling Zhi (left) of China and Vicky Persinger of the United States at their curling mixed doubles round-robin game during the Beijing 2022 Games in Beijing on February 5 (VCG)

Ode to the Olympics

Fair play and solidarity characterize the Olympics and must be the steady highlights during the Games and beyond, UN Secretary General António Guterres said in a video message to the opening of the Olympic Winter Games in Beijing on February 4.

Competition "does not necessarily mean enmity," as it can unite nations in the battle against COVID-19, climate change, inequality and other global challenges that require more than unanimity and solidarity, Guterres added.

During the opening ceremony, the 91 placards carrying the names of each participating team came together to form one single, large snowflake, framed by olive branches. The huge snowflake, which later turned out to be the cauldron, demonstrated the traditional Chinese principle of people living in universal peace and harmony.

Against a scattering of calls for a diplomatic boycott from some Western politicians, around 2,900 athletes from 91 countries and regions are competing in the Beijing 2022 Games,

making it one of the largest in the 98-year-long history of the Winter Olympics.

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said in an interview with Xinhua News Agency he believed Beijing 2022 would also create a legacy for the international community and the Olympic Movement.

"I'm so excited to be able to represent my country in Beijing and do the Olympic show with some of my biggest role models and so many of the people that I love! This Olympic year is going to be a really special one," Maud said on her social media.

You're welcome! 

(Print Edition Title: With Open Arms)

Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon

Comments to taoxing@cicgamericas.com

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