Politicians aren’t the only dignitaries missing from February’s Winter Olympics in Beijing. Australia’s first female Winter Olympian, Gweneth Henke (nee Molony), who competed at the 1952 Games in Oslo, has had her invitation to attend the Beijing Games withdrawn.
IOC president Thomas Bach wrote to Henke on December 15 citing COVID-19 restrictions as the reason he was forced, “with heavy heart”, to withdraw an invitation he extended in February 2020.
Bach writes: “As a gesture of gratefulness for your understanding and in order to mark the 70th anniversary of your Olympic participation, it will be my great pleasure to offer you a Beijing Olympic torch after the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022.”
Mrs Henke’s husband of 65 years, Geoffrey, is the godfather of winter sports in Australia. He ruled out any possibility of his wife, a former figure skating champion of Australia, doing a celebratory circuit of the Henke rink – named in his honour – at Melbourne’s Ice House.
Former Olympic ice skater Gweneth Henke and her husband, former Australian ice hockey representative Geoff Henke.Credit:Chris Hopkins
“It would be nice to skate around the Henke rink holding the torch but I’m 94 and she’s just a bit younger,” he explained.
It will be the first Winter Olympics the Henkes have missed after collectively attending 18, with Geoffrey chef de mission of the Australian team at six Games.
He is optimistic about Australia’s medal chances in Beijing. Historically, results in the last months of World Cup competition leading into the Games are the best guide.
“The weekend of December 11/12, we got six medals across the disciplines,” he said.
Mogul skier Jakara Anthony on her way to victory in Alpe d’Huez, France.Credit:Getty
“There are as many as ten athletes who wouldn’t surprise if they got a medal.”
On Sunday morning, leading Australian skier Jakara Anthony continued her winning ways by claiming another World Cup gold medal in the moguls, in the Alp D’Huez in France. After claiming gold in the single mogul event on Friday, Anthony won a second in the dual event and she now looms as a huge Olympic medal chance.
So too Belle Brockhoff, who claimed a bronze medal at the snowboard cross World Cup in Cervinia, Italy.
Given that Australia’s medal haul in recent Games averages one gold, one silver and one bronze, Beijing may be the nation’s most successful Winter Olympics.
Bach explained in his letter to Mrs Henke that the COVID-19 pandemic has forced organisers to reduce “the number of people entering China and to grant accreditations only to people who have an operational role for the delivery of the Olympic Games.”
The Chinese organisers, concerned for the health of the athletes as much as the country’s fragile health system, have added a fourth word – safer – to the Olympic motto of faster, higher stronger.
Protocols are so strict that only four hubs are allowed for athletes entering China, with COVID-19 tests required at 72 and 48 hour intervals before boarding a plane.
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