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Olympic notes

Olympians challenged by cybersecurity concerns in Beijing

Athletes attending the upcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing are being encouraged to bring disposable laptops and cellphones to China and leave them there.NOEL CELIS/AFP via Getty Images

As if Olympians didn’t already have to worry about just making their teams and avoiding testing positive for COVID-19, multiple countries have warned them that they’re likely to be spied upon while they’re at the Games.

The United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee recently told athletes and staff that they should assume that all of their data and communications will be “monitored, compromised, or blocked” by the Chinese government. The British, Canadian, German, and Dutch competitors received the same warning from their committees. So, athletes are being encouraged to bring disposable laptops and cellphones to China and leave them there.

The Chinese government dismissed such concerns as “a paranoiac rush to try to protect themselves from imaginary threats.” But Canadian cybersecurity experts have warned that the My2022 smartphone app that Olympic participants must use to report health and travel information has a “simple but devastating flaw” that could enable Chinese authorities to steal sensitive details, such as passport numbers.

“We should not be naïve and lightly dismiss scenarios that are unimaginable to us,” said the German athletes’ organization.

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Even more chilling is the recent warning from a high Beijing organizing committee official who said that athletes whose behavior violates the Olympic spirit and Chinese laws and regulations would be “subject to certain punishment.” That could include “provoking trouble” or “picking quarrels.” So, Human Rights Watch is advising athletes at the Games to zip their lips until they’re back home.

Russian figure skaters take a bow

As expected, the Russians dominated the recent European figure skating championships in Estonia, claiming all four events and nine of 12 total medals. The Motherland swept the women’s competition behind Kamila Valieva, the 15-year-old Olympic favorite, the pairs behind Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov, went 1-2 in the dance with winners Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov, and took the men’s title with Mark Kondratiuk.

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This weekend’s Four Continents figure skating championships, shifted from China to Estonia because of the pandemic, will give a significant number of US Olympic alternates a chance to stay sharp in case their name is called for the Games. A half-dozen of them — Brighton resident Gabriella Izzo, Jimmy Ma, and pairs Audrey Lu-Misha Mitrofanov and Emily Chan-Spencer Howe — represent the Skating Club of Boston.

Canadian women’s hockey a veteran lot

Marie-Philip Poulin leads an experienced Canadian team into Beijing.Jeff McIntosh/Associated Press

Like their American archrivals, Canada’s women’s hockey team is filled with Olympic veterans. Thirteen players were on the 2018 squad that lost the final to the United States in a shootout. A half-dozen return from the 2014 gold-medal squad and captain Marie-Philip Poulin and Rebecca Johnston, who’ll both be competing in their fourth Games, were on the 2010 team that also won gold.

The Canadians, the reigning world titlists, will meet the US team in their group finale and likely again in the championship game, as they have all but once (in 2006) since the inaugural tournament in 1998.

Love, Hoffman pushed their way forward

It was no surprise that the US Olympic women’s bobsled team bypassed three bemedaled pushers in favor of Kaysha Love and Sylvia Hoffman.

Lolo Jones won the gold medal with Kaillie Humphries at last year’s world championships. Lauren Gibbs pushed Elana Meyers Taylor to silver in PyeongChang last time. And Aja Evans is a two-time Olympian who won bronze in 2014. But they largely were idled during the World Cup season with Love and Hoffman getting most of the starts. Since Meyers Taylor and Humphries both have strong medal possibilities in Beijing, the selectors went with brakewomen whom they felt would provide the fastest starts.

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Hunter Church and Frank Del Duca will be the two men’s pilots. Their pushers include Pembroke native Kris Horn (a former UMass decathlete), former Princeton running back Charlie Volker, Jimmy Reed, and Josh Williamson, as well as veterans Carlo Valdes and Hakeem Abdul-Saboor.

A skeleton crew for US

The US Olympic skeleton squad has so few members that they could fit into a compact car with room for their sleds.

Katie Uhlaender (her fifth time), Kelly Curtis, and Andrew Blaser are the smallest group the Americans have sent to the Games since the sport was restored to the program in 2002, when the United States won both men’s and women’s golds. Their medal chances are remote. The Americans, who had nobody in the overall top 10 this season, haven’t made a World Cup podium in two years.

Americans lacking in ski jumpers

The US Olympic ski jumping team, consisting of just three individuals, is the smallest since 1928. The women didn’t qualify anyone and the men didn’t earn a team spot for the first time since the event was introduced in 1988.

Kevin Bickner and Casey Larson, both 2018 veterans, will be joined by rookie Patrick Gasienica. The absence of a female is notable in that the Americans lobbied hard for the event’s inclusion in the Games but haven’t developed a program capable of competing.

Nordic team on a new course

The US Olympic cross-country skiing team is bursting with rookies with 10 of the 14 members making their Olympic debut. Jessie Diggins (her third team), Rosie Brennan, and siblings Scott and Caitlin Patterson (Craftsbury, Vt.) are the only PyeongChang holdovers. Newcomers include Julia Kern (Waltham), Sophia Laukli (Yarmouth, Maine), and Ben Ogden (Landgrove, Vt.).

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The pandemic abruptly suspended the World Cup season with 10 men’s and women’s races rubbed out last weekend in France and this weekend in Slovenia. Those were the final scheduled events before the Olympics, which means that athletes will have gone more than a month without competing when they take the starting line in Beijing.

New Englanders take aim

The US Olympic biathlon team is loaded with five-ringed veterans. Susan Dunklee (Craftsbury, Vt.), Leif Nordgren (Hinesburg, Vt.), and Sean Doherty (Center Conway, N.H.) made their third teams, and Clare Egan (Cape Elizabeth, Maine) and Joanne Reid their second. Newcomers include Jake Brown, Paul Schommer, and Deedra Irwin. Reid is the daughter of speedskater Beth Heiden, who won bronze in 1980.

Cool Runnings redux!

For the first time since 1998, a decade after their debut, the Jamaicans are sending a four-man bobsled entry to the Games. “It will be fire on ice,” tweeted Team Jamaica, which is also sending a two-man sled and a women’s monobob . . . Haiti and Saudi Arabia, neither known for snow and ice sports, will make their Winter Games debut in Beijing. Each will send a skier . . . The American athletes marching in the Opening Ceremony will be well-bundled by “intelligent insulation.” Their Ralph Lauren-designed outerwear, made from recycled plastic bottles, will have a temperature-responsive inner fabric that expands as necessary.

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Material from Olympic committees, sports federations, interviews, and wire services was used in this report.


John Powers can be reached at john.powers@globe.com.