Dinigeer Yilamujiang, a cross country skier, born in Xinjiang, and Zhao Jiawen, a 21-year-old biathlete, placed the lit torch onto a giant snowflake at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics opening ceremony on Friday, Feb. 4. Yilamujiang then ranked 43rd in her Olympic debut in the cross-country skiathlon on Saturday, Feb. 5, and disappeared from the spotlight.
As The Wall Street Journal reported on Feb. 6, Ms. Yilamujiang is a Uighur, a Turkic minority group native to China’s northwestern region of Xinjiang, which has become the subject of allegations of Chinese human rights violations in the United States and the West.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s decision to pair Ms. Yilamujiang with a member of China’s Han majority, rather than a more talented or well-known athlete, was regarded as a show of defiance against the global pressure campaign and was denounced as “offensive” by international Uighur human rights organizations.
Ms. Yilamujiang had fallen behind more than half of the field of 65 participants at the first checkpoint of Saturday’s race, finally finishing 42 places behind the eventual gold medalist, Norway’s Therese Johaug. However, her poor performance on her Olympic debut went largely unrecognized in the Chinese media.
Ms. Yilamujiang and the other three Chinese athletes competing in the event then vanished, leaving more than a dozen Chinese and foreign journalists waiting in the freezing weather for more than an hour.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) declined to comment on Ms. Yilamujiang’s absence.
Ms. Yilamujiang rose to fame in China almost overnight, hailed as a symbol of national unity.
“That moment will encourage me every day for the rest of my life,” Ms. Yilamujiang told China’s official news agency Xinhua on Sunday. “I was so excited when I found out we were going to place the torch. It’s a huge honor for me!”
As part of a year-long program of forcible assimilation, the Chinese regime has targeted the Xinjiang region’s predominantly Muslim ethnic minority with mass-detention internment camps and pervasive surveillance.
Concerns about China’s human rights record, particularly its ethnic-assimilation attempts in Xinjiang, have hung over the Games’ build-up and overshadowed other portions of the opening ceremony.