Attending the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics was a cathartic decision for Swedish Olympic speedskater Nils van der Poel.
After discovering the story of Gui Minhai, a Swedish book publisher — born in China — who was seized by Chinese authorities for criticizing the CCP, van der Poel wanted to make his opposition to their authoritarianism known on the world stage.
When he received the gold medal for the 10,000-meter race, in record-breaking fashion, van der Poel sought to gift the award to Angela Minhai, daughter of the Chinese prisoner.
As van der Poel feared the ramifications of making a public gesture against the CCP from within Beijing, he decided to meet with Angela to gift his support.
“I really see myself as the guy holding the microphone in front of Angela,” Mr. van der Poel told The New York Times. “I just hope that human rights get to stand in the center of this.”
The medalist had met with Angela Minhai in England to hand off the gold, which he hopes can stir attention toward Gui’s story and the overrule enacted by China’s government.
“It’s surrealistic giving away what you fought for your entire life,” van der Poel noted about his record-breaking performance. “But it also brings a lot more value to the journey — that it’s not just me skating around in circles.
“I realize that Gui Minhai will not be set free because of this. I realize that the Chinese people will not stop suffering from oppression because of this. But I really, really believe in free speech.”
The speed skater joins athletes like Enes Kanter Freedom that have highlighted China’s violation of human rights, notably the enslavement of Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang region.
“But I also think a little bit of naïveté is important to try to effect change,” Angela added. “I think it’s very important that Nils giving me his medal to honor my father is understood as honoring political prisoners like him, many of whom are increasingly Hong Kongers and Uyghurs.”
Follow along on Twitter: @AlejandroAveela