If the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games were China’s coming out on the world stage, the Beijing Winter Olympics are worthy of comparison in their own way. If anyone could have predicted they would be held amid isolation of athletes and limited spectators in a pandemic, it is doubtful any nation would have put up its hand to host them. Now, after two weeks of a snow and ice sporting spectacle, it is time for the grand finale of the closing ceremony tonight, when the Olympic torch will be passed on to Milan for 2026. President Xi Jinping promised China would deliver a streamlined, safe and splendid Games. It has also set the bar high for future hosts, including Paris in the summer of 2024. Despite the absence of spectators these have been the most-watched Winter Games ever, thanks partly of course to the enthusiasm of the huge, patriotic fan base among the host’s own population. They attracted almost 600 million mainland Chinese viewers in the first week as compatriots began to amass China’s best-ever gold-medal haul. The appeal of the spectacle in the first city ever to host both Summer and Winter Olympics is reflected in the United States, where this has been the most-watched Winter Games ever, and Europe, where streaming viewers quickly surpassed total viewership of the previous games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. It is not uncommon for the latest Olympics to be hailed as the best ever. Beijing’s claim on this occasion has been reinforced by hi-tech enhancements which gave a global viewing audience a bird’s-eye inside view of the physical and technical demands and emotional stresses of high-speed, acrobatic competition on snow and ice. ‘My mum is better’: Eileen Gu praises mother for giving her champion upbringing In the host country, where there can never be too much opportunity for 1.4 billion people to participate in sport, the Winter Games have already ignited an expansion in winter sports that will enhance physical and mental health, not to mention opening up new business and career opportunities. The Olympic charter stipulates political neutrality. But usually politics are never far away. At a press conference on Thursday a spokeswoman for the Beijing organising committee broke the host’s diplomatic silence on questions about Xinjiang and Taiwan, calling out “lies” and saying there is only one China, prompting a clarification from IOC president Thomas Bach and a reaffirmation from the organisers and the IOC of political neutrality. In the circumstances the restraint has been admirable. It would be a shame if politics, and a row over citizenship detracted from the spectacle, including the feats of China’s “golden girl”, American born Eileen Gu, 18, who was raised by her Chinese-American mother as a single parent and chose to represent China. Her two gold medals plus a silver in three different freeski disciplines is a record.