[Les coulisses de nos reportages] Beijing 2022: Olympic Games under glass bell

For this series, The duty takes you behind the scenes of major reports by its journalists in 2022. Stuck in a huge health bubble, Éric Desrosiers, accompanied by photographer Marie-France Coallier, covered the Winter Olympics in China without ever being able to take the pulse from the country.

Was it the fault of the accumulated fatigue after a dizzying first 15 days of covering/running the Winter Olympics in Beijing, which had themselves been preceded by weeks of an obstacle course to only have the right to put foot in China? Or a little bout of homesickness? Or the chemical smell inside the N95 masks that we had to wear everywhere and at all times, inside and out, which ended up completely sickening me? I do not know. But that morning, even the mild spring weather in the Chinese capital and the sun warming my face were not enough to lift my spirits.

I was waiting alone in front of our hotel for the shuttle to the media center to arrive. To join me outside, my photographer colleague, Marie-France Coallier, still had to line up for a lady in an astronaut’s suit to pass her, like every morning, a long cotton swab into the smallest corners of her throat. search for traces of COVID. Afterwards, he would have to pass with his heavy and cumbersome gear through a security check similar to what we have in airports.

On the other side of the high palisade that surrounded the hotel, we could hear the noises of the city and of daily life, access to which was forbidden to us. The summer before, the Tokyo Olympics were also held inside sanitary bubbles, but we had the right to leave after two weeks of quarantine. In China, foreigners who entered the Olympic bubble came out only by leaving the country.

When you have the chance to cover the biggest sports festival in the world, you don’t go there for tourism, of course. But there was enough to drive any journalist crazy to find themselves on the other side of the planet, in a country as fascinating and influential as China, and to be condemned to only glimpse it. through the windows of the shuttles that had to be taken even between sites separated by three street corners.

This confinement was all the more disappointing for me since I had already made a landmark three-month trip there, 30 years ago, and I was burning to see, if only a little, what she had become. But until then, we had been so isolated from it that we could have been almost anywhere in the world.

It was when the security guards removed the two padlocks on the high front door to let a taxi out that I saw a happy group of teenagers pass on the sidewalk nearby and I thought that a small hitch to the sanitary rules would not be so serious…


Covering the Olympic Games has always required a great deal of discipline, hard work and resourcefulness. The accreditation process is long and detailed. Once there, we are constantly faced with harrowing choices on the events to follow according to their sporting importance, the interest they arouse in Quebec, their originality, the help we can hope for. news agencies, logistical constraints and time difference.

In China, all this was complicated by health rules, but also by the fear of hacking which forced the adoption of special security measures. Held around prime time in major cities on the US East Coast, many of the mountain events were also held either too early or too late to attend, even catching the first or last fast train. between competition venues and Beijing.

This did not prevent us from witnessing the exploits, in particular of several Canadian athletes, such as speed skaters Steven Dubois, Isabelle Weidemann, Charles Hamelin and Laurent Dubreuil, snowboarders Maxence Parrot and Éliot Grondin or the team women’s hockey.

Without knowing it, the containment measures that applied to these Beijing Games were heralds of the rigor that the Chinese government would subsequently apply in the application of its “zero COVID” policy. But the Olympic health bubble held only about 70,000 people and was big enough for dozens of hotels, entire stadiums, trains and even mountains to fit. Later in the year, it was in their homes or in their factories that millions of Chinese would find themselves confined.

Back to China

Let’s go back to the group of teenagers passing on the sidewalk that morning. There was one, probably the most rebellious, who had lowered his mask. As I was almost alone outside and no one was watching, I did the same. For a few seconds only.

The chemical smell of the mask slowly gave way to something hard to describe, but one I recognized right away. It mingled, with a background of burnt coal fumes, sweet, spicy and acid scents. For a moment, I felt back in China.

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