Since these are a particularly political Olympics, it makes sense that they started off with a political statement. The flame was lit by two people, one of whom is cross-country skier Dinigeer Yilamujiang — who was born in the Xinjiang autonomous region. That was intended to torch the diplomatically boycotting Americans who “have repeatedly called out Beijing for its repressive policies toward the Uyghur minority in Xinjiang.” Most Americans won’t buy the imagery but, of course, we’re not its key audience. As in America, there are competing realities in the world, and the competition among athletes in cold weather sports is taking place in the increasingly chilly shadow of what could be a new cold war.

While American diplomats are boycotting the games, Vladimir Putin was a guest of honor at the Opening Ceremonies, following his meeting with Xi Jinping. The talks were described by the Kremlin “very warm,” adding, “Friendship between [Russia and China] has no limits, there are no ‘forbidden’ areas of cooperation.” In addition, China joined Russia in opposing Nato expansion.

The games are in China, but the real geopolitical battle is taking place on Ukraine’s border. While athletes are curling, dictators are flexing. And no one likes to flex more than Putin. You might wonder why Putin would “attack a neighboring country that has not provoked him? Why would he risk the blood of his own soldiers? Why would he risk sanctions, and perhaps an economic crisis, as a result?” And why would leaders like Xi back his moves? The Atlantic’s Anne Applebaum has a great piece on The Reason Putin Would Risk War. “He knows that the political system he helped create is profoundly unfair, that his regime not only runs the country but owns it, making economic and foreign-policy decisions that are designed to benefit the companies from which he and his inner circle personally profit. He knows that the institutions of the state exist not to serve the Russian people, but to steal from them. He knows that this system works very well for a few rich people, but very badly for everyone else. He knows, in other words, that one day, prodemocracy activists of the kind he saw in Dresden might come for him too.” Putin’s Biathlon is Authoritarianism and Kleptocracy. It is a battle against democracy, which is something that hits a little too close to home in American these days.

+ Most Americans probably aren’t particularly interested in Putin’s political moves or Xi’s Xinjiang policies. And for now, they aren’t particularly interested in the Olympics either. In a recent poll, 61% of Americans couldn’t name a single athlete competing (which is weird because Shaun White has been on longer than Law & Order). But that will change as the Games get going. We’ll forget about politics and focus on the entertainment factor. A few moguls won’t distract us from televised sports. The half pipe replace the peace pipe. But don’t feel bad. American corporations are way ahead of you. Wired: Despite Diplomatic Boycott, the US Is Powering the 2022 Olympics. “When it comes to sponsorship and institutional corporate collusion, including in the technology sectors contributing to the surveillance crisis, business does go on as usual.” Like the Winter Olympics, that’s cold.